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The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Charles Clarke): I begin by commending all 20 Back-Bench speeches, and the Front-Bench speeches in an excellent and illuminating debate in which many points of view were put clearly and coherently. It is a tribute to the House.
I want to focus on the common ground that has been expressed during the debate. First, there is strong common ground that Parliament needs to address the problem of international football hooliganism. With the possible exceptions of the right hon. Members for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) and for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) who expressed some doubts about that principle, there was a general acceptance that it was a matter for the country and the House to address.
We debated many of the profound issues during the Opposition day debate on 20 June. I do not intend to return to those points save to say that there was consensus that we are dealing with an urgent national issue and we need more research and understanding in order to address it fully.
Secondly, there was common ground that we need stronger legislative powers to deal with these matters in a variety of ways. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said that there had been eight previous pieces of legislation on the matter, from the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act 1985 to the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999, in which Governments of both parties sought to strengthen the law to deal with the problem in the most effective way.
Let me respond to those who asked, "Does it work?". The answer is that it has worked in some respects. We cannot claim that the Bill will solve all the ills that have been described in the debate, but it will make a contribution towards doing so and, on that basis, we should support it. All parties have committed themselves to the need for stronger legislative powers, and previous legislation has reflected that.
The third area of common ground is that we need stronger international co-operation and intelligence work involving police forces in different countries and that we need to find better ways of working together. That is a positive aim.
It is also fair to say--and the point could be made in a partisan way--that there is general agreement that better legislation is produced when there is consensus and when there is sufficient time to consider the issues fully as a proper debate can result in more effective provisions. The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler) made that point powerfully, as did some of my hon. Friends. I acknowledge what they said.
There was also a clear consensus that people are ready to work together to address the issues in an effective way. In her opening speech, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) attempted to find consensus and common ground, and I commend her for that.
There has also been common ground on the substance of the Bill. Almost all hon. Members who spoke agreed that the first two provisions of the Bill--a new banning order combining aspects of domestic and international football banning orders and a requirement that all banning orders to include a condition on the surrender of passports unless there are exceptional reasons not to do so--would improve the legislation.
On the third main point of the Bill, enabling magistrates courts to impose banning orders on suspected football hooligans, again there was common ground that legislation might be appropriate although a number of specific points were made. They will correct me if I am wrong, but I thought from what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) said that they were both willing to discuss how to improve the legislation in relation to specific points that were made. I accept that it may not be possible to do that, but I take it from the sincerity of the spokesmen of both main Opposition parties that we could take a direct approach to the issue.
Mr. Clarke: I doubt whether that will be possible completely, but it will be possible to deal with the problem in other ways. I may be wrong, but I thought that Front-Bench Members of the Opposition parties would, like Labour Members, commit themselves to discussing the best way to achieve that. The right hon. Gentleman makes a real point, but I think that we can make progress on the matter.
After due consideration, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has placed his certificate on the Bill to assert that the Bill complies with the ECHR. The key issue, which emerged during what was a full and fair debate, comes down to a difference of opinion. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey spoke about proportionality, and said that the removal of a person's right to attend the venue of a match--although he or she may still watch the game on television--amounts to a low-level penalty and deserves consideration. My hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Dr. Ladyman) made the same point very clearly.
The other side of the argument was expressed mainly by Conservative Members, but a couple of Labour Members shared their view. It is that the potential threat to liberty implied by the provision was so serious and profound that it could not be justified, even though the penalty was relatively small in the greater scale of things.
That debate is a legitimate and important one for the House. All hon. Members will form an opinion on the balance of judgments about that question, and our constituents will do the same. They will look at the proportionality, or otherwise, of the proposal, and they will come to a view. They will see how the House votes, and they will reach a verdict accordingly.
That is right, and fair enough. However, it is important to look at the position of the political parties. The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey appeared to say that the Liberal Democrats could not support any proposal to introduce such summary powers in any circumstances. He judged proportionality to be so important that no such proposal could be accepted. He made it clear that there was no scope for discussion, as he would urge his colleagues in the House of Lords to vote against the Bill on those grounds.
The Government come down clearly on the other side of the argument. We believe that it is important to be able to drive out international soccer hooliganism, and we are prepared to take the powers to achieve that, even though they involve a violation of rights in the way that has been described in various ways. Some Labour Members expressed doubt about that, and they are perfectly entitled to do so.
Mr. Lilley: The Minister just admitted that the Bill involves a violation of rights, but he has not dealt with the argument, advanced by me and the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), that the Bill sets a dangerous precedent. The Government have been provoked into introducing the Bill by a television programme showing a minority of British football fans behaving in a deplorable fashion overseas. However, the BBC is to screen a programme showing that a large
Mr. Clarke: The right hon. Gentleman makes the familiar argument about setting a dangerous precedent. It is a perfectly legitimate argument. I do not agree with it. Almost any action creates a precedent. I do not think that in principle we can say that we do not do it because it is a precedent. One looks at the merits of the case, on this and other issues. The right hon. Gentleman made his position very clear.
Mr. Corbyn: Will my hon. Friend reflect on what he has just said? If we are to put into legislation, in this Bill, the power of a police officer on his or her own suspicion to remove somebody's right to travel, what is to stop any other legislation giving exactly the same powers to the police, rather than the courts, to act on?
Mr. Clarke: The short answer is "the Parliament"; Parliament decides how it will deal with each piece of legislation as it comes along. Proportionality is an important concept, which needs to be given more attention. The point about it is that one must look at the penalties in relation to the offences committed.
My final point is that I believe that the Conservative party came to the view that it would abstain because there was an irreconcilable difference in approach, which we have seen in this debate. I pay genuine tribute to the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald. I believe that she is concerned to try to reach agreement to deal with the issue in the way that we are discussing. She addressed the fourth principle, and showed that she is prepared to discuss it. I thought, though I may have misunderstood him, that her right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield was saying that issues in this area should be discussed as well, and he was certainly prepared to contemplate--I go no further--legislation that included the fourth principle, provided he could be satisfied on the points that were made. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford, to whom I pay tribute for his private Member's Bill, was also very clear and direct in this regard.
On the other hand, many right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches made it clear that they were with the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. Essentially, there were no circumstances in which they would be prepared even to discuss the section 4 issue. I believe that that is the problem that the right hon. Lady has been dealing with. She has been overruled by her right hon. Friend the leader of her party, who has gone back on the commitments made, and that party is all over the shop.
Now the electorate will come to its judgment. It will judge whether the Government were right to proceed despite the civil liberties issues. It will judge whether the Liberals are right to oppose the provisions because of those issues, despite the problem that our power to deal with international soccer hooliganism would be weakened. And it will judge the Conservatives in exactly the same way. That is as it should be.
My advice to the right hon. Lady--I assure her that it is friendly advice--is that she had better get a system sorted out that can unite her party and present her position to the public, because, with all respect to her, that was not achieved tonight. The fact is that the abstention is a reflection of the deep division within the Conservatives. It is also a reflection of the fact that there is dissension, even to the level of the leadership of her party, about how to proceed. My advice is to sort it out.
I believe, and the Government believe, that our responsibility is to do everything we can, following the eight measures put forward in the past, to eradicate soccer hooliganism. It damages our country; it destroys and blackens our reputation; and we must do whatever we can to eradicate it. That is the spirit in which the Bill is put forward and the spirit in which I hope the House will give it a Second Reading now.