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Mr. Denis Howell : Perhaps I can help my hon. Friend to make her valid point. We have done quite a lot of research in my office and found that, in the past two years, two women have offended. One of them was telling a club official in rather strong unwomanly language what she thought of him ; the other was having a row outside the ground with her husband and was arrested as a result. Neither comes into the category of hooliganism.
Miss Hoey : My right hon. Friend has demonstrated my point. Women attend football matches. There is no doubt that football is very much a male domain, but the women who attend go not only with the husbands or boy friends but because they enjoy football and want to support their local clubs and soak up the atmosphere.
We all know that not enough women attend football matches. The idea that women used to attend and must be attracted back to football, having been driven away by hooliganism, is untrue--women have never attended in great numbers. So we are trying to encourage more women to come to watch football. They do not stay away, as the Minister thinks, because of violence or hooliganism. They stay away much more because facilities for women at the clubs are not up to standard. Women's toilets on the terraces are usually taken over by men. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will not mind my pointing out that at Chelsea, the club that he supports, the toilet facilities for women are pretty appalling and are usually taken over by men.
The only thing that the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) said with which I agree is that the Football League and the Football Association have not yet moved into the 1990s. I and many of my hon. Friends share his criticisms.
It is disgraceful to link women with hooliganisam. I am especially worried that the casual supporter will be discouraged from attending football. Many men do not want to go, but their children do on the odd Saturday. If women were exempted, on a Saturday morning, say, when a son or daughter aged under 10 wanted to go to a match that afternoon--the Minister does not agree with his working party that accompanied children up to the age of 13 would be exempt--their father might be working or might not have an identity card, so it would be much more sensible if women were exempted and mothers could take their children to football matches. The Government are quite wrong about this.
I find it difficult to take seriously the idea--it was mentioned in Committee--that if women were exempt, men would dress up as women-- Mr. John Carlisle rose--
Miss Hoey : I shall not give way to the hon. Gentleman on this point. As I said in Committee, some Conservative Members seem obsessed with men dressing up as women, but it is not a serious argument against exempting women.
I am sure that the Minister will argue for universality and say that the scheme must apply to everyone, so as to break
Column 84the link between the genuine supporter and the hooligan. But we believe that the genuine thug should be targeted. The Minister has already exempted some people from identity cards--those with disabilities ; girls under the age of 10--and there is no logical reason why women should all be labelled potential thugs who need an identity card.
During the past year and a half, the Minister has spent a great deal of time on this Bill, pushed, as we know, by the Prime Minister. I still hope that at some stage he will accept what we have been saying throughout--that we think that he genuinely does not believe that the scheme will work. He, as Minister for Sport, cannot really want to implement this measure but he has to because he has to obey another women who heads the Government.
If the Minister cared about football, about improving our national game, then instead of spending all this time trying to get legislation through which everyone, except some Conservative Members, says will not work, he could have been laying down guidelines to clubs about facilities. Those could have included guidance on what clubs must do to come up to standard. He should have insisted on clubs getting rid of some of the ridiculous men- only board rooms that exist in some clubs. He should have been looking at the money that the Government take from football, and finding out whether it might be possible for some of it to be put back into the game.
The Minister should have been making sure that magistrates were told that the fines and sentences they are handing out to the thugs are ludicrous and pathetic. He should have been making sure that magistrates impose sentences that will deter and not just allow the thugs to get off lightly. He should have instructed the FA to reopen its English supporters travel club, instead of sitting back and saying that he does not want supporters to go abroad and that he wants England to cancel its matches. How dare the Minister say that? It is playing into the hands of the thugs to ask England not to play its matches and even to suggest that, if England qualifies for the World Cup, it should not go.
The Minister should have insisted that the FA takes account of its supporters, involves them when they are travelling abroad and takes responsibility for them, thus isolating the small number of thugs who travel abroad. The Minister should have talked to supporters' clubs and listened to what they were saying. As hon. Members have said, it is the supporter who goes week in and week out, cold nights and all, who knows what is going at the club and how to isolate the thugs. Such supporters need help to do that, and the Minister should have listened to the 500,000 supporters who signed the petition. Some Conservative Members--although not the Minister--have implied that these signatures collected at football grounds were glibly given by people who did not know what they were signing. How dare Conservative Members suggest that young people who play football or elderly people who have taken the trouble to stop and read the petition and sign it do not know what they are signing and do not know what the Government are doing?
The Minister and the Government will receive a big shock over this issue. They will railroad the Bill through, but in many marginal Tory seats, football supporters, in addition to all the other things, will make a difference at the next general election. Football supporters will not forget what the Government have done to them and to their game.
Column 85A Government led by a woman say that women cause problems at football matches and are potential thugs. My hon. Friends will be speaking about the amendment in terms of pensioners. I urge every Conservative Member to search his conscience. If they cannot vote for the amendment, I ask them at least to abstain. I have outlined the things that the Minister should have been doing in th last two years. They are the things that Labour will do when we are in office.
Mr. John Carlisle : As the Member described by the Sunday Mirror the other day as one of the most chauvinist Members on the Conservative side because of my description of women as all natural bitches, I say immediately and unreservedly to the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) that I would not make that criticism of her. She has once again entertained the House with a charming speech, just as she did in Committee. The plea that she puts forward is similar in content and argument to the one that she advanced in Committee. Regrettably, her arguments are spurious and tend to reduce this important Bill to the level of ribaldry and dissent among the hon. Lady's own sex.
I do not think that the hon. Lady speaks for as many women as she claims to. She and her right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Health (Mr. Howell) seek to deny women the benefits of the membership scheme which will be available to them if they choose to join. Of course the Bill does not seek to force anybody to the join the scheme. If the amendment were accepted, women would not be able to enjoy the many benefits of the scheme which will be available to others. Many women who support the Opposition may ask Opposition Members how they can justify denying the scheme's many benefits to women.
The right hon. Member for Small Heath said that he would advise the Football League, the Football Association and the Football Supporters Association not to take any of the commercial benefits that the scheme offers, and that would deny those benefits to women. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the information that the membership of the Football Supporters Association has risen from nil to 15,000 in about an hour.
It would be appalling if the commercial opportunities which will undoubtedly be available to clubs are denied them because of the pig- headedness and stupidity of the right hon. Member for Small Heath, who says that, because he does not like the scheme, no one should join it and enjoy its commercial benefits. I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a law- abiding citizen. He has been in opposition long enough in this Parliament and in others to know that, when legislation is in place, best use should be made of it. The right hon. Gentleman should not advise people to try to ignore the scheme. Those of us who served on the Committee have heard before the arguments of the hon. Member for Vauxhall. She must understand that membership of the scheme will bring not only commercial benefit. The greatest benefit of all is that at last football will be a clean and safe game to go to. That in itself will benefit women perhaps more than any other section of society, apart from young children. Many clubs operating the membership scheme will be able to offer their members not only commercial advantages but advantages such as priority in application for tickets for important matches.
Column 86I have no doubt that the club supported by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will be fighting for honours towards the end of the season and may reach the Football Association cup final. In that case, if the membership scheme were in operation, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West would certainly appreciate it because some people who were members could be shown by the computer to have been to, let us say, 20 games, and that would enable them to have priority in getting cup final tickets. Under this amendment, women would not be able to benefit in that way. They would not be able to make any sort of application and would not qualify for the benefits of priority for tickets.
Mr. Carlisle : Not middle stump, I say to my athletic opponent. The more people who are in the scheme and enjoy it, the better it will be for everybody. The more people who join a scheme or a club, the greater the benefit to the club in terms, for example, of commercial advantage. However, if the members of a large section of the population are denied the opportunity to become members of the club, which would be the result of the amendment, the scheme would not work as well as it would if they were members.
I have not been privileged to hear many of the speeches made by the hon. Member for Vauxhall, except in Committee, but no doubt she is a great champion of equal rights for women, and would make speeches in favour of equal taxation, equal opportunities of employment and equal opportunities to become Members of Parliament.
Mr. Carlisle : I have no doubt that the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends, including the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), would all speak in favour of equality for women. However, the hon. Lady wants women to be treated specially in this system. She does not want women to be as the others, because they are women and should be treated differently. Conservative Members find that difficult to understand.
The hon. Lady dismissed, rather unfairly, the distinct possibility that men would dress up as women to go into games. She is not in the real world. We are not talking about transvestite bars in Berlin or certain television programmes. We are talking about a genuine scheme which has been proposed by the Government, and which many hundreds, if not thousands, of people will find different ways to get round. In Committee, the Opposition made this point time and again. It is not without some fear and trepidation that I believe that, should the amendment be accepted, the spirit engendered that night in Newport, when 150 supporters went to the local Oxfam shop to buy women's clothes to get into the game, would be seen again.
Labour Members know full well that abuse takes place in all walks of life. They have seen people limping into places of entertainment in front of a crowd on the basis that there is something wrong with them. They have seen
Column 87people abusing the orange card scheme for the disabled. If too many exemptions are allowed, we shall probably find thousands upon thousands of limping men dressed in women's clothes going into football matches. That could be a serious problem, and the House should face it. It has already happened ; if it had not, the thought would not have entered my head or that of any hon. Member. If the hon. Member for Vauxhall wants to be taken seriously and to have her argument considered seriously both by those supporting and by those opposing the Bill, she should not put on a pedestal a certain sector of the community. Once the scheme is up and running, I believe that women will be as anxious as men to join it. If the amendment were passed, the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends would be denying women the benefits of membership, and for that she would not be thanked.
Mr. Pendry : It is a pity that the speech so ably made by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) should have been followed by such a speech from the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). This is a serious debate about a serious matter. I agree with my hon. Friend. If women have no history of hooliganism in football grounds, the same can be said of old-age pensioners. It is a disappointment to them, as it is to Labour Members, that, despite our efforts in Committee to persuade the Minister to move along this line and adopt a common-sense approach, he has not seen fit to exempt women or old-age pensioners.
I know that I risk being struck off the Christmas card list of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) when I say that I actually agree with something said by the hon. Member for Luton, North in Committee. He said :
"Pensioners are among the most active and loyal of supporters."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee A ; 13 July 1989, c. 384.] The hon. Gentleman spoke with forked tongue tonight, although I agreed with what he said then. This legislation will alienate those very people. Therefore, I was surprised by what he said tonight because I thought that, having said that in Committee, he would support these amendments.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) made a telling comment. He put my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) right when my right hon. Friend said that there was no evidence of hooliganism among old-age pensioners. He said that, during the whole of last year, there had been three incidents involving people over 65 years of age. The first was in Norwich, when a man was prosecuted for illegally selling hot dogs; the second was near the Chelsea football ground, where a pensioner attempted to steal a car; the third, when no charges were brought, occurred at Southampton, where the police arrested a person who was pretending to be Father Christmas.
Mr. Meale : In the searches done about this season, the only case of a pensioner being in trouble with the police at football grounds is that concerning the ex-chairman of Southend United, who has been charged with the misuse of lottery funds.
Column 88problem is negligible. It is wrong for the Government not to recognise that women and old-age pensioners have nothing to do with the hooligan problem, which we all deplore. The hooligans who attach themselves to our national game do not include women and old-age pensioners. The Government should have been big enough to show that they recognise the force of our arguments.
The millions of pensioners who regularly attend football matches find it difficult enough to go through the existing turnstiles without having to negotiate computerised equipment. The continuing debate and indecision about the nature of the equipment to be installed will hardly reassure them. The honest belief of many involved in the debate is that, due to the inevitable rejection of cards or computer breakdowns, congestion, impatience and rushing will be the outcome of the scheme, which will prove a further discouragement to pensioners. It is a pity that the Government did not wait for the final Taylor report before the scheme was thrust on women and old-age pensioners--vulnerable sections of our society who are far more sinned against than sinning.
Many of the long-standing and loyal spectators for whom standing on the terraces of their local club has been a way of life are saying that they do not wish to take up the ID. I will give one or two examples. Jacky Watts, who may be known to my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath, is a long-time supporter of Aston Villa and remembers the days of Pongo Waring, Frank Broome and others. Jimmy Wallis is a 71-year-old lifelong fan of Blackburn Rovers, who remembers my uncle Aussie Campbell, and Bobbie Pryde and Ronnie Clayton. Old age pensioners at Derby such as Cyril Flinders and Mildred Price, who saw the great Raich Carter and Dally Duncans and Leon Luety, are considering not taking out ID cards. That is a sad indictment of the Government.
The Minister for Sport is unfortunately not here, but in Committee he said that too many exemptions would interrupt the essential smooth flow of spectators through the turnstiles and that alternative arrangements would present practical problems and loopholes for the hooligans to exploit. That is complete and utter nonsense. I hope that the Minister here today will respond in a fresh and positive manner. It is a pity that the Secretary of State for the Environment, who was in his place for about five minutes, could not stay longer. Many of us had great hopes that he would reverse many of the nonsensical policies of his predecessor. If he had listened to the debate, the outcome might have been different from the one that I expect.
The scheme will mean that spectators will be interrupted as they pass through the turnstiles and there is no reason for old age pensioners and women to be part of it. I endorse the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall that women almost never incite or become involved in violence or obscene or threatening behaviour at football matches. The same is true of old-age pensioners. I endorse my hon. Friend's comment that it is not just a matter of bringing back families to support the game--we, the Government and the football world must unite in creating a climate which will encourage families to come to the sport for the first time. There must be an atmosphere that women find acceptable. They should not be penalised by the Bill. I hope that the Government will recognise, even at this late hour, that the thrust and force of our arguments is compelling and that they will accept the amendments.
Mr. David Evans : I wish to bring the debate back to the heart of the Bill, which is the separation of football fans from football hooligans. Football has lost half its supporters in the past 25 years, and the number of professionals playing the game is half what it was those years ago. Some of the lost supporters are women and old-age pensioners, and it is those very people whom the Bill seeks to protect.
We have had hooliganism, violence and criminal activity within the game for far too long. In effect, the Bill is saying to women and old-age pensioners who supported or still support the game, "We need you to continue to come to matches and support the game." Unfortunately, with more police, more dogs, more horses and more closed-circuit television, the very people who are the subject of the debate have been made aware of the problems facing the game and have stopped attending matches. That is a fact. Supporters have left the game in droves and it is not a matter of luring them back. Hundreds of thousands have left the game, yet the Football Association and the Football League have persistently, together with Opposition Members unfortunately, failed to recognise that the game is in deep decline.
Mr. Ashton : Attendances at cinemas and cricket matches have also declined enormously. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that hooliganism at the cinema has kept people away? Television has had its effect, along with unemployment, do-it-yourself, the ownership of cars and other interests. All or most attendances at leisure activities have declined over the past 20 or 30 years.
Mr. Evans : That is not true. Attendances at motor racing meetings have increased by 300 or 400 per cent. Attendances at rugby matches have similarly increased. The same can be said of attendances at rugby league matches and horse racing. It is at football matches--the national game-- that attendances have declined dramatically. Opposition Members might tell me that over the past two or three years attendances at football matches have increased, but a graph that covers the past 25 years shows that over that period attendances have just about halved. It is that problem that the Bill addresses. We are about to see a revolution in football. Everybody will, in effect, belong to the same club, and the benefits accruing from the card will be enormous. For example, the Luton bus company has offered half-price fares on any Saturday to members of Luton football club. It is not inconceivable that in future every football fan will be able to travel to his match at half price. That is already part of the Luton scheme.
Mr. John Carlisle : Will my hon. Friend inform the House of the many commercial benefits that are being offered in the form of discounts at local shops because of the Luton scheme? Will he refute the argument advanced by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who suggested that the only commercial "advantage" would be junk mail? Other benefits exist and the scheme is working extremely well at Luton.
Mr. Evans : Indeed it is. My hon. Friend is right. The House should know that 32 companies have lent themselves to the Luton scheme. They have supported the club and offered discounts on a large range of products. Of
Column 90the 20,000 who have signed up at Luton, those who have stated that they do not want to receive a 7 per cent. discount on a motor car have not enjoyed the advantage of that offer. However, from next Saturday, every Luton member will be able to travel to his match at half price. That is a fact.
It is ludicrous to say that women should not be allowed to take advantage of such an offer. Are Opposition Members telling me that old-age pensioners should have to pay the full fare when men who are of working age are charged half fare? What a ludicrous and ridiculous proposition.
Mr. Evans : That may be so, but they do not enjoy free travel on British Rail. They will enjoy that advantage under the scheme. In my opinion, anyone who is a member of the Football Membership Authority will be able to go on holiday at half price. There will be no end to the advantages that will come from this wonderful scheme. I do not wish to see old-age pensioners being excluded from half-price tickets on British Airways. That would not be right. I advise Opposition Members to withdraw their ridiculous amendment before they make themselves look ridiculous.
Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife) : At the outset of his remarks, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) said that he would endeavour to get to the heart of the Bill. I suppose that he made a valiant effort, but I regret that he was not very successful. The heart of the Bill is a compulsory membership scheme, and it is on that issue that the Minister and the rest of the Government have thus far been unable to advance compelling and convincing arguments. Why should there be universality for a football membership scheme when for some extraordinary reason, they eschew that approach on family income supplement, for example?
In a substantial sense, this is a matter of civil liberty. It has always been lawful for any person to go to a football match, but after the scheme is instituted it will be necessary to be a member--in effect, to have a licence--before taking part in an activity which hitherto has been entirely lawful without any licence or membership. The Government justify their proposals by saying that there are people who frequent football matches who behave in a fashion that is unacceptable to all of us in this place and to 99.7 per cent. of those who attend football matches.
The justification for removing a freedom is the benefit that it is said will accrue on the basis, so it is hoped and argued, that hooliganism will be reduced or even eliminated. If the purpose of the scheme is as the Government say, and if it is accepted that its essence is to take away a measure of freedom, it can be justified only in relation to the group of people among whom the hooligans can be found. Those groups certainly do not appear to include old-age pensioners--unless masquerading as Santa Claus is somehow of such deep significance that it may imperil the Government's proposals. The statistics show that women and old-age pensioners do not account for a large number of football hooligans.
The question is whether an activity that is currently lawful and in which one can freely participate should be the subject of regulation. Before the Government are
Column 91entitled to extend regulation in a universal way, they should satisfy the House that such a restriction is justified in respect of each of the categories concerned. Thus far, the Minister has been unable to give such proof. I suspect that he will be unable to do so even when these proceedings are completed. For that reason, I support the Opposition amendments.
Mr. Orme (Salford, East) : I refer first to the benefits that the identity scheme will allegedly bring to football supporters. I am much in favour voluntary membership schemes. About 50 per cent. of Manchester United's attendance of 46,000 people are club members who enjoy certain benefits that could be developed. It does not require compulsory ID cards to enjoy those benefits. We want to see not a narrowing of the supporters' base, as will happen if the Government insist on women and pensioners registering as members, but a broadening of it. We know the source of the hooligan element--we see them on our television screens and when arrests are made. We want to see more women and pensioners at football matches, together with the development of family enclosures.
The attendance by women at football matches is a new phenomenon. Years ago, women did not attend matches, but after watching it on television, many of them have developed an interest in the game. Many also want to take their children, using the family enclosures. I should have thought that the Minister would want to exclude family enclosures, which are supervised, from the provisions of the Bill. I accept many of the criticisms made of football grounds, some of which are a disgrace. Several of the best grounds in the country still do not provide adequate catering or toilet facilities. We should be aiming at improving the facilities at many of our stadiums. Many of them are also to be found in inner cities, where parking facilities are inadequate and where crowd control is difficult. Hillsborough is a classic example of a ground that is surrounded by residential housing and small roads.
We want to see the development of new stadiums and of better facilities. Perhaps the pattern set by American football could be followed, whereby entertainment is provided over a period of several hours and not for just 90 minutes. Many supporters agree that it is often a case of entering the ground just a few minutes before the game begins and leaving it as soon as the match finishes. That happens because the spectator is offered nothing more. In some cases, those attending are not even provided with cover from the rain. We should be addressing ourselves to solving such problems, not to a compulsory identity card scheme that will cause a reduction in attendances by the very kind of people whom we want to see at matches. Amendment No. 51, covering women, proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey), and amendment No. 52, concerning pensioners, point the way forward. If the Minister really wants to see the game developing along the right lines, he should accept those amendments, which would encourage higher attendances among the right people.
We must also link genuine supporters in the fight against hooliganism. Supporters' clubs are for the first time receiving proper recognition, though they still have no power in the boardroom or influence over the provision
Column 92of club facilities. A large proportion of football hooliganism will be defeated not by the police alone but by ordinary supporters saying, "We have had enough of this. We will no longer tolerate hooliganism." Such people need encouragement. I say again to the Minister that the Government's scheme will drive away many of the people-- yes, including younger people--of the kind that we want to be associated with the fight against hooliganism.
Everyone knows that the Bill will not work. The clubs will be forced by law to implement its provisions, but they will do so in a half-hearted manner. That is not the way to defeat hooliganism, and that is what our argument is about.
Mr. Pike : The Opposition's amendments are eminently sensible and, if the Bill is to be forced through, they commend themselves to the House. They are so logical and positive that the Government should have been prepared to respond positively to them. The reasons advanced by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) for not supporting the amendments were so outrageous that, had I not been present in the Chamber to hear them, I would not have believed it possible that someone could make such comments. If I had picked up a newspaper tomorrow and read of them, I would have thought that the reporter had misunderstood the hon. Gentleman's comments. The statistics and the facts prove that, if the Government persist with their Bill, women and old-age pensioners should be exempted, because clearly they are not responsible for the problems that exist. The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) referred to falling attendances at football matches. It is utter nonsense to suggest that hooliganism is the biggest contributory factor. My right hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Orme) gave several valid seasons for that trend.
In arguing his case, the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield cited the one ground where a closed membership scheme covering 20,000 supporters is in operation. He should consider the attendance at his local football club by comparison with 20 years ago. If that membership scheme is so successful, why is it that that club experiences attendances which are among the lowest in the first division? Over the past couple of years, Luton has enjoyed reasonable success, despite struggling against relegation. The year before last, it reached three cup finals, and it reached the Littlewoods cup final this year.
May I point out to the hon. Gentleman that Luton Town's attendance figures last year rose by 21 per cent.--the fourth highest increase in the first division?
Mr. Pike : Last year's may have been the fourth highest percentage increase, but it certainly was not the fourth highest attendance figure. Attendances at matches in which my own team played--a fourth-division team- -were, at one stage, only 1,000 or 2,000 lower than the Luton average.
Mr. Harry Barnes : Does my hon. Friend realise that Luton wishes to exclude away fans, even under the scheme? Clause 1(10) will allow that to happen. Why is that provision included in legislation for what is supposed to be a national scheme?
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I do not believe for a moment that the Bill will solve the problem of attendances. It deals with the wrong problem, in the wrong way, and will be very damaging to football.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) asked about away supporters. I find it surprising that clubs that want to ban those spectators from their grounds are so anxious to allow their own supporters to attend their away matches. As a supporter of many years' standing, I believe that we must allow supporters from both sides to watch matches.
As I said earlier, the statistics and the facts show that exclusions can and should be made, even if the Government are stupid enough to persist with this nonsensical legislation.
Mr. Tony Banks : The hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) correctly identified the single aim which unites Members on both sides of the House. We are all trying to eliminate hooligans from football, and to separate them from the true supporters. The only argument is about how to do that.
If that is the hon. Gentleman's objective, however, he must surely recognise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) has pointed out, that statistics clearly show that the hooligans are not women or pensioners. The principle of exempting certain categories of supporter is already enshrined in the Bill. Those categories include disabled people and children. If exceptions can be made and the Government have conceded that principle, I do not see why they should resist statistical evidence that two further groups do not pose any danger of hooliganism.
Trying to justify his rather peculiar stance, the hon. Gentleman went on to say that women and pensioners would, if excluded, merely be deprived of the multifarious benefits which would somehow flow from the scheme. That does not necessarily follow. Apart from anything else, there is nothing to stop women and pensioners from joining a scheme voluntarily, if minded to do so. Most supporters' clubs will operate the kind of scheme that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, providing travel and purchasing advantages, for instance. The hon. Gentleman was really scraping the barrel in his attempt to justify his opposition to an amendment for which, in their quieter and more rational moments, hon. Members on both sides of the House would clearly concede that there is a strong case.
It is a fairly open secret that I am a Chelsea supporter. I have been one for many years, man and boy--but, as the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) will know, not yet woman. Chelsea football club used to be nicknamed "the Pensioners". Although some people claimed that the nickname referred to the way in which the team played, it had nothing to do with that ; it derived from the club's close associations with the Royal Chelsea hospital. Anyone who attends a Chelsea match nowadays will still see the Chelsea pensioners sitting there.
It strikes me as ludicrous that, to gain access to the club, Chelsea pensioners will now have to join the scheme. Can the hon. Member for Luton, North imagine--even in his wildest moments--that members of the Inter-City Firm or the Head Hunters would dress themselves up in red greatcoats and peak caps and cover themselves in whiskers
Column 94and medals in an attempt to sneak into Chelsea football club? It is not as though Chelsea pensioners try to sneak in without being noticed.
Mr. John Carlisle : The hon. Gentleman has certainly put a new idea into the minds of the Inter-City football fans, which they may well follow up. He has, however, missed the point that the scheme will bring women and pensioners--particularly the Chelsea pensioners whom he has mentioned--the peace and quiet that we now enjoy at Luton. Stamford Bridge could also enjoy that peace and quiet, although it did not do so earlier this season. Supporters would be able to attend matches time and again in the certain knowledge that, because everyone present must be a member of the scheme, the game will be played in peace and they will not be beaten about the head on the way. It ill behoves the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)--who, to some extent, represents Chelsea football club in the House, and who knows the history of appalling violence in and around Stamford Bridge--not to support a scheme that will get rid of that violence once and for all.
Mr. Banks : Two points emerge from what the hon. Gentleman has just said. First, it should be pointed out that the club with which I could be said to have the closest political affiliation is West Ham, which is in my borough. As the hon. Gentleman knows, however, while it is possible to change many things in this life--one's political party, one's religion and one's partner, for instance--a true football supporter will never change his allegiance to a football club. As one whose constituents include a vast number of West Ham supporters, I am prepared to stand up and say that I am still a Chelsea supporter, and will remain one.
Secondly, the hon. Gentleman's logic is faulty. The membership scheme will go ahead and pensioners and women can therefore continue to attend matches in complete confidence, because it was not they who created the problems in the past and they will certainly not be creating problems in the future. If the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the scheme will work to exclude hooligans, those categories can still attend in the full knowledge that the hooligans have been excluded, and without themselves having to go through the inconvenience of participating in the scheme. They are not responsible for the trouble, and they should therefore be excluded. Conservative Members are reaching into the very depths of the barrel in their attempts to justify their opposition to these measured amendments.
After all the years in which Chelsea pensioners have been going to matches, dressed in such a fashion that there can be no misunderstanding about their identity and where they come from, it seems most unfair that at their advanced age--having served the country and fought in the first world war, with only a few twilight years left to enjoy the delights of Stamford Bridge and see Chelsea win the first division championship--they should now have to experience the inconvenience and humiliation of signing up for the membership scheme on the ground, I suppose, that they may be potential hooligans. What a way to treat such people. It is absurd, and I am surprised that even the hon. Member for Luton, North, who seems to spend so much time licking his lips at the thought of all those men dressed up as women in fishnet stockings and trying to sneak into the ground--no doubt he is now imagining
Column 95them wearing greatcoats over the fishnets-- should make such comments. All I can say is that it says something about the way in which the Tory party thinks these days--it is all very odd, very kinky and entirely unreasonable.
As my hon. Friends know, the matter of exemptions has been debated at great length in both Houses. Opposition Members pressed amendments seeking exemption for women and pensioners to a vote in Committee, after an extensive debate in which all today's arguments were rehearsed.
Let me once again make the Government's position on exemptions perfectly clear, as my hon. Friends have already done. We want to encourage membership, not seek exemptions to the scheme. It is not a case of identifying groups who will not cause trouble at matches and then exempting them from the requirement to join the scheme. Taken to its logical conclusion, if we began to remove groups who caused no problems, perhaps we would identify that all men with beards were not involved in hooliganism-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will allow me to develop my argument, I shall come to the practical reasons why disabled people are rightly exempted from the scheme.
If one exempted certain groups, we would begin to segregate great sections, who would still have to be identified as they entered the ground, and exempt them from membership. Ultimately, the only people who would not be exempted would be the hooligans. If we did that, we would retain precisely the situation that exists at the moment, in which club after club individually excludes known troublemakers. Clubs have no mechanism for excluding such people from another club up the road or any of the other 91 clubs. They are excluded only from their own club.
We will retain the situation in which 22 per cent. of people who go to football still say that they have been caught up in violence inside the ground. We would still have pitch invasions at the Crystal Palace- Birmingham City match and disorder inside the ground at the Manchester United-Manchester City game. We would still require 5,000 police to be on duty every Saturday afternoon to contain the problem and not to cure it. That would be the first natural result of applying that argument.
Secondly, there would be an important practical problem. Under a national membership scheme, all the groups that Opposition Members propose for exemption would need to prove that they fell into one or more of those categories. They would need to satisfy the turnstile operator, verbally or with a piece of paper, and would require testing at the turnstile.
Mr. Moynihan : The hon. Gentleman suggests separate turnstiles. Does he propose to double up on all the turnstiles? If he is suggesting that, he has answered the point for me. It would be utterly impractical to attempt to do that at football grounds. Not only would it be impractical, but I would argue that a national membership
Column 96scheme that required such checking would not satisfy the criteria that we require for speed of entry. That is an essential point on safety grounds-- [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) would do well to stop smiling and to listen. When he does, he will know that one system being considered is a technology which will require a card simply to be touched on the outside of the turnstile to allow entry, without taking up any additional time.
The moment people have to stop, hand over their card and talk to the turnstile operators, there will be a backlog of people causing the very problems that Opposition Members are determined will not occur in the technology that the FMA chooses. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) for saying that that is right, and I give way to him.
Mr. Ashton : I am sure that the Minister is not deliberately trying to mislead the House, but he forgets that people have to pay as well as put down their cards. They have to stop to pay and take their change. Many grounds already have separate turnstiles for old-age pensioners. Why can there not be a separate turnstile for pensioners and women where they do not have to put their cards down?
Mr. Moynihan : I have made it so crystal clear to the hon. Gentleman that I am amazed that he does not hear. On the practical side, I want to make sure that every member of the national membership scheme can gain entry to all 92 clubs as quickly and effectively as possible without any discussion with the turnstile operator. That would be a requirement of ensuring that no additional time is taken.
The effect of the membership scheme is the benefit to the member. The membership scheme effectively would segregate the true football supporter, who would benefit by going to football without being encumbered by the hooligan element which has done so much to disrupt the game, bring it into disrepute, add to the falling gates in the sport and cause English clubs to be banned from playing in European competition for so long. Only when, together with the football authorities, we can prove to the European authorities and to ourselves that we can put our own house in order--and a 100 per cent. membership scheme is vital in that context--and separate the true football supporter from the hooligan, will we be able to hold our heads high, as we should both nationally and internationally in our national game.
Of course it is important to make sure that there is easy access to football grounds for disabled people. At present, it would be totally impractical for disabled people in wheelchairs to go through a turnstile- operated entry. There need to be separate entrances. We need to make sure that those people can enter safely without the practical difficulties that are envisaged if they have to place a card in a turnstile. For that reason, on balance, it was the view of the committee set up last year that disabled people should be exempt from the membership scheme.
It was also the view of that committee that we should encourage youngsters under 10 accompanied by members of the scheme to go to family enclosures and to encourage families to bring young children to specific areas of the ground, accompanied by members of the scheme. I understand that that view was shared by both sides of the House. I expect that many youngsters will want to join,