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1.55 am

Mr. Banks: It might be regrettable that the House has had to consider football hooliganism again today, but that does not mean that we are passing bad legislation.

The arguments that we have heard today have been well rehearsed over a long period. The 1989 legislation and the Act introduced by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) have contributed to the argument about how we deal with football hooliganism, and we have moved on stage by stage in a reaction against the behaviour of the minority of fans who still do so much to damage the game abroad.

My feeling is that this Bill will not be the last because, whatever the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) thinks, it would not be worth anything at all without the fourth provision. He shakes his head, but we will see who is right in the long term. We will probably have to revisit the subject in the House--so be it. We will have a chance to assess whether the Bill is effective. We must get it right, and the important point is that if we keep getting pushed by hooligans, we will keep pushing back.

We have had a short debate, but the arguments have been well heard and well rehearsed and we have answered them very well.

1.57 am

Mr. Burns: Like the hon. Member for West Ham (Mr. Banks), I suspect that this will not be the last legislation on football hooliganism that a Government have to pass. I do not believe that legislation alone will solve the problem, but it is an important part of the equation in minimising hooliganism.

If one studies the record and considers the seven pieces of legislation since 1985, one realises that there has been a significant drop in incidents of hooliganism at domestic matches. As the Home Secretary said earlier, the problem has now shifted overseas with a vengeance. Last year, I introduced the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999, but was unable, as a private Member, to include the provision for a court to take away the passports of unconvicted football hooligans if it was satisfied that there were reasonable grounds for believing that if those people travelled abroad, they would cause problems. As a result of that debate, that provision has been included, and the Bill will now move from this House to another place and hopefully become law before we rise for the summer recess.

It would have been perverse of me not to support the Government's proposals because I have been arguing for over 15 months for most, but not all, of the Bill's provisions. Some of them have built on my Act; some are

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measures that I desperately wanted in my Act, but could not, as a private Member, achieve; and some are totally new. On Second Reading, I expressed concerns about some of those new provisions. I am not opposed to them in principle because, like the hon. Gentleman, I think that if we removed the fourth provision, we would gut the Bill, and that would mean that we would return to the House to deal with further legislation far sooner. I had some reservations about certain aspects, as did many of my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I am pleased that, as a result of the concerns that were expressed on both sides of the House on Second Reading on Thursday and--presumably--in discussions since then, the Government have proposed changes to build in greater safeguards. From a purely personal point of view, I am satisfied with those safeguards.

I genuinely hope that, when the Bill reaches the statute book, it provides the state with a significant weapon with which to deal with those people who have caused so much misery to so many other people and ruined the reputation of the game of football and enjoyment of it among innocent citizens of this country.

I conclude by saying what I said on Second Reading: of course the House has a proper duty to safeguard and protect the civil liberties of the minority, but there comes a time in the affairs of state when the civil liberties of the majority, which have been infringed for so long in this area, must be protected and strengthened so that they may also enjoy them free of fear, intimidation or violence.

2 am

Mr. Corbyn: After 10 hours of debate, it is a little odd to call this Bill a rushed piece of legislation. However, although what happened in Charleroi and Brussels was appalling, as is the violence associated with England playing international games, the House ought to ask whether pushing a Bill through in two days on a ludicrous timetable is a sensible way to deal with the issue. Quite why the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) suddenly tabled an amendment so that we could talk until 5 am on Third Reading but curtailed debate in Committee by speaking for so long on the timetable motion beggars belief. One wonders about the Conservatives' intentions.

I hope that the Bill is significantly amended in the Lords because it is a very bad piece of legislation. There ought to be a great deal more examination of its long-term and very serious implications.

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington): Does my hon. Friend agree that, although everyone shares the shock and horror at the outrageous scenes in Charleroi in Belgium, legislation passed in a hurry on a wave of popular outrage is inevitably shoddy? Sadly, that may prove to be so with this Bill.

Mr. Corbyn: I agree with my hon. Friend because it is a serious issue to condemn--rightly, as everyone does--the violence associated with Euro 2000 and the abominable racism that surrounded much of the violence not just in Brussels and Charleroi but earlier in Copenhagen and at other events surrounding matches between Leeds and Galatasaray and Arsenal and Galatasaray. I was pleased

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that the Home Secretary yesterday started to address the chauvinism, nationalism, racism and violence associated with so much of the trouble.

We must ask some serious questions. If other countries are capable of playing international football matches without their newspapers leading up to them as though it were the start of a war, perhaps we have some lessons to learn. Perhaps football commentators could say and do a little more, rather than merely reporting with glee that the England fans at the game were playing the music from "The Dam Busters", singing "Rule Britannia" and behaving as though Britain could never be defeated at anything--as if England suddenly became Britain at a football match. I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has opened up that debate because it is high time that was done.

I still think that the Bill is dangerous and misguided. If anyone commits an offence at a football match--drunken behaviour, violent behaviour, racist violence or some other offence--there are laws to deal with such behaviour both in this country and in all the western European countries on which our debate has focused. It is only right that prosecutions should take place within the jurisdiction in which the offence is committed.

My objection to the Bill is that it gives a great deal of power to individual police officers, based on their own perception and on suspicions arising from evidence of what individuals may or may not have done abroad, to apprehend people, remove their passport and deny their right to travel. It might be said that no more is involved than those people missing a football match which they can watch on television--provided that they can afford to subscribe to Sky--but the reality is that it is a serious matter to give such powers to the police.

When I first entered Parliament, there was a campaign to get rid of the sus laws introduced in 1824, which gave the police the power to apprehend people on suspicion. The people whose behaviour in Brussels and elsewhere that we have discussed do not sound like especially nice people or people with whom one might have much sympathy, but I urge the House to think about the serious implications of giving such powers to the police outside any judicial process.

We must also ask the simple question, will the legislation work? It does not apply to the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland or Scotland, so there are obviously enormous loopholes. If trouble surrounds the England-France game in September--after the Bill has been pushed through both Houses of Parliament--what will we do then? Will we come back and give the police even more sweeping powers of arrest? Will we prevent people from travelling at all? Will we ban everyone from watching the games? There is a danger that the Bill will not work.

I recognise that the House will pass the legislation--both major parties are agreed on it and a majority of Members have been whipped to pass it. However, our experience of rushed legislation is that it is ineffective and inaccurate. Legislation passed in haste means that, at some point, we shall have to return to the subject and repeal parts of the legislation.

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Finally, the statements made by Liberty and the Law Society suggest that the Bill is outwith the European convention on human rights. A case will end up before the European Court and I suspect that the British Government's position will prove untenable. We should remember that the civil liberties we want for ourselves should apply to everyone else. If we give powers to the police without considering the implications, we shall have done an extremely bad job in the House today.

2.8 am

Mr. Lilley: On Second Reading, I expressed my fear that all five of the conditions that typically give rise to bad legislation prevailed in respect of the Bill and accounted for its poor quality. It has been carried through in undue haste; it was introduced after cries that "Something must be done," even to influence events that take place outside our jurisdiction; it is the subject of Front-Bench collusion; it is driven by an orgy of sanctimonious vilification of an unpopular minority; and it will be carried through because the Government lack any firm commitment to the principles of liberty and individual freedom.

I am afraid that all those conditions still apply. The result is a Bill that, although somewhat improved, is not a great deal better than the one we started with, and certainly not a Bill that is good enough to command the support of the House. As for the process by which the measure has been considered, it is fair to say that it has been carried through with unnecessary haste. We have had time enough to see how bad the Bill is, but not time enough to make it better. Above all, we have not had time before Committee stage to seek advice and amendments from our constituents, interested parties and experts outside the House, and no time at all between Committee and Report. Indeed, nobody could table an amendment after Committee stage and before Report--we had to table them before the end of Committee stage. If they were tabled late, they were too late for consideration by the Speaker, so could not be included in the rather brief Report stage that we eventually had.

The Home Secretary gave a devastating indictment of his own case when he was at the Dispatch Box earlier and considered the question whether the Bill had been introduced with undue haste. First, he said that the ideas for such legislation had been around for months and people had had plenty of time to consider them. Then he said that no proposal such as that tabled by the Government today could have been conceived before the events at Charleroi. It was only those events that made us see the need for such a Bill.

So, far from there having been months to consider the proposal, it is only since the proposal arising out of the events at Charleroi was presented to the House a few days ago that there has been any opportunity for anyone to consider the issues on which we are legislating, allowing the House to give the police powers to arrest on suspicion, to detain, and to remove people's civil liberties, even though they have never committed a crime or been tried according to standards of criminal proof.

The Secretary of State went on to note that in his experience, proper consideration was never given to a set of proposals until concrete proposals had been published, which in the case of the Bill was not until last Thursday.

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It is only since last Thursday that we have had an opportunity to spark off detailed consideration of the truly offensive nature of the proposals before the House.

As an example of how bad the legislation is, the central issue is whether we should remove people's right to travel and their passport only if they have been convicted in a court of law, or should we remove those rights on some lesser basis, if they have never been convicted of any crime?

That is the central issue, yet a few moments ago the Minister could not even tell us why, in the clause in which the courts are invited to consider relevant evidence as to whether someone has behaved in a way that means that he should not be allowed to have a passport and travel abroad to a foreign football match, the courts are invited to consider any decision of a court or tribunal outside the UK, but they are not invited to consider the decision--that is, the convictions--of a court within the UK.

The Home Secretary could not tell us why. He will write to me--very nice. After the Bill has been passed, we will know something about the central matter that we have debated for a few brief hours and on which the liberties of British citizens are to be taken away. The right hon. Gentleman suggested that the Bill did not need to tell the courts that they could take into account the decisions of British courts--they could take that for granted. However, the very next item on the list of factors that courts can take into account is


The courts can take into account decisions by public bodies that do not result in the conviction of a citizen, but we are not invited to take into account the convictions of courts.

That is how bad the legislation is. Ministers do not even know and cannot explain to us what it means. They could not explain in the final part of the Report stage whether the courts would have to be convinced of a standard of criminal proof, or merely of civil proof, whether a person had committed an offence of violence and disorder, or done something equivalent to an offence of violence and disorder. My right hon. and learned Friend the former Attorney-General thought--he was being helpful to the Government--that the Bill probably required a criminal standard of proof, but others, including the Front-Bench spokesman for the Liberal party, thought that only a civil standard of proof was required. That was what the Home Secretary himself had been suggesting up till now.

On the Bill's central issue, we do not know the standard of proof that will be required of the courts. Even now, the Minister cannot tell us that. In their heart of hearts, Labour Members believe at least as passionately as I do in the rights of the individual citizen, and they were elected on a manifesto to uphold the liberties of their constituents. Yet they will go blindly into the Lobby to vote for a Bill that will enable the police to arrest on suspicion someone who might have committed an offence, which may not be a criminal offence, and will not have to be proved to the standard of criminal proof. Are they happy that the Bill will be passed? Are not they relieved that we have a second Chamber, which will--I hope--turf it out or alter it before it returns here and give them a chance to reconsider before their Front-Bench Members get them into real trouble?

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The measure will be operational by the autumn. Hon. Members will witness innocent people being caught by the Bill. Some doubt that, and believe that the Bill will not affect too many innocent people. I prefer to proceed on a basis of legislative certainty rather than hope.

The third factor that leads to bad law is legislating on the cry that something must be done, especially about events overseas. The Home Secretary said that the measure could not have been foreseen, and that it was provoked by the events that took place in Charleroi when 965 British citizens were arrested. Only one was charged and convicted. However, the Home Secretary said that they were obviously a bad lot because 40 per cent. had criminal convictions, many of which, as the right hon. Gentleman helpfully showed the House, were for violence and disorder offences. Many of them are, therefore, bad lots.

The essence of our debate is deciding whether we should, as is right and proper, deprive people who have committed an offence and been convicted in a court of violence and disorder, of the right to travel to football matches and remove their passports, or whether we should extend the power to cover people who have never been convicted of an offence. If we are considering stopping only the 40 per cent. of the 965 people from travelling abroad, we do not need extra powers such as the fourth power for which the Bill provides. We could do everything on the basis of those who had been convicted. As the Home Secretary said, a large minority had been convicted.

The Bill invites us to go far beyond considering whether people have convictions from United Kingdom courts and to consider whether they have been arrested and expelled from countries such as Belgium, and whether they are part of the 60 per cent. who had no convictions. The Bill provides for the courts to take into account the fact that people have been arrested and expelled from abroad even though they have never been charged with or convicted of any offence abroad or at home. Under the Bill, those people can be deprived of their passports.

The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Murphy) assured me, during a friendly debate that we had on television at midnight, that the Home Secretary had assured him about the innocent ones at Charleroi--among whom he nearly found himself because he was there, but, happily, was not in the square and was not rounded up. The hon. Gentleman is patently innocent--a vegetarian, teetotal Scot--who is therefore incapable of wrongdoing. However, if he had been in the square, he might have been caught up, arrested and expelled. He assured me that the Home Secretary assured him that the names of people who were expelled but had no convictions against them would not be made available to the courts.

I ask the Minister, who is covering his eyes to help him better to concentrate on my words, to say whether the rest of the House can have a similar assurance that the details of those who were expelled from Charleroi despite having no convictions against them in English courts--indeed, they had no convictions against them in Belgian courts, nor were any charges made under Belgian law--will not be given to the courts should a policeman stop them, detain them, take them to a magistrate and seek to prove that they are the sort of people who might get involved in trouble abroad. I hope that he will make that clear; he had better do so if the debate is to be meaningful.

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The fourth aspect that gives rise to bad legislation is collusion between Front Benchers, which is often used to curtail debate. The Minister himself said that he had curtailed the debate only because he saw opposition coming from the Conservative Back Benches. Had Conservative Front Benchers been able to prevent that opposition, he would have allowed full debate. Ministers subscribe to the wonderful doctrine that there will be full debate on a Bill only if there is no opposition to it or if those on the two Front Benches have conspired to curtail or prevent opposition. [Hon. Members: "Sit down."] If the Labour Members who have taken no part in these brief proceedings and who want to curtail the rights of their constituents would care to tell me their constituencies, I shall read them into the record so that their constituents will know how lightly and trivially they take citizens' rights. [Interruption.] The more they go on, the longer I shall go on pointing out what is wrong with the measure--until 5 o'clock if need be, with your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as long as that is in order. This serious matter deserves serious consideration, but otherwise I do not intend to prolong the debate unnecessarily.

The fifth aspect that gives rise to bad legislation is a sanctimonious orgy of vilification of a currently unpopular minority. Hooligans, thugs, racists and drunks are unpopular, and rightly so. We are all happy to see legislation introduced that bears exclusively on those who commit crimes so that they can be brought to court and properly and duly convicted. What worries Conservative Members is that innocent football fans are likely to be caught up by these measures. Some will be suspected by a constable because of their demeanour or behaviour in front of him, which is what the original draft of the Bill said. They will be taken to court and deprived their liberty on a standard of proof less than that required to convict them of any crime, even though they may have done something that may not be a crime according to the Bill.

We know why the Government are happy to risk a lot of perfectly innocent young working class white males getting caught up with the thugs, whom we would all like to be caught by the law. That is part of the new Labour strategy. The Government can take the working class for granted, but they have to pander to middle class susceptibilities. The Prime Minister's memo made it clear that he wanted dramatic measures--


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