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David Wright (Telford): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it has been the practice in some countries to remove English and other football supporters without charging them? Do we not need some mechanism to stop those people travelling in future?
Simon Hughes: That was the Minister's argument, but the answer is not as simple as the hon. Gentleman thinks. After the Charleroi games in Belgium, many people were shipped home who had committed no offence. One should not be able to pray in aid in seeking a banning order the fact that a foreign country's authorities prevented people from seeing a match, even though they were not convicted of any crime. There is also a question about whether video footage of people misbehaving abroad should be able to be prayed in aid. There is an argument for that, but there is a stronger argument for ensuring that people who commit offences, no matter where, should be nicked, charged, prosecuted and convicted. The best evidence that someone is a hooligan is a conviction for hooliganism.
It is a dangerous road to go down to allow people's liberties to be taken away when there has been no conviction. We will have the same debate in relation to terrorism. In the criminal justice system in which I was brought up, liberties are normally restricted only after a conviction has been secured in a court, not when video footage or allegations suggest that someone may or may not be guilty.
As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, we are considering the Bill only one year and three months after the original legislation completed its passage through the House, and one year and two months after it reached the statute book. The present Act runs until the end of August next year, after the friendlies and the World cup. It is premature to make the judgment now. In their manifesto, the Government said that they wanted to extend the life of the legislation but not to make it permanent.
In considering Lords amendments in July 2000, the Minister's predecessor said that he was willing to contemplate a sunset clause for a longer period, as well as annual renewal. We propose, as a concession in the Government's direction, that the legislation should lapse after a maximum of five years and that it should have an annual renewal if we think that the evidence justifies it.
I will happily talk to Conservative Front Benchers and I hope that we can agree that we must be able to have periodic reviews of such legislation on the basis of the evidence. That will mean that we can take into account the points that have been made about evidence from abroad, but if it appears, nine months from now, that almost every single person who has been the subject of a
This is a serious matter, because we never envisaged that people would be detained and taken to a court that effectively precluded them from going to a game even though it never decided that there was evidence that they should not go. That is a separate matter from having a temporary banning order when a case has not been concluded.
My colleague in the Scottish Parliament, the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Justice, is responsible for the legislation in Scotland, but we did not manage to iron out the anomaly that if one leaves from a Scottish port to go to a game in England, the law does not apply.
We will debate emergency legislation on terrorism, and there is a logical argument for passing not specific legislation on football, but legislation that deals with people who have committed violent offences and may be violent abroad, irrespective of whether that violence is related to football. We should also consider such matters in the context of public order.
I thinkcivil servants will know this better than I dothat there are now eight recent football-related measures, and they ought to be pulled together so that we have one coherent football-related Act. We left the complicated issue of whether to accept convictions abroad unresolved during the previous debate.
I shall end on a point that unites us: we agree that one of the troubles in this country, especially in England, has been not only that we have been far too violent at home as a nation and as a people, but that we have often exported our violence abroad, to the disrepute of our country. We must all work together, regardless of our differences on the Bill, to reduce violence in Britain, especially that caused by alcohol, and to ensure that we restore our reputation as not only good sports, but peaceful sports supporters, andwho knows?we might even become more successful, although we appear to be doing relatively well now, for which we are very grateful.
Mr. Stephen Hepburn (Jarrow): The Minister referred in his opening remarks to the recent tragedy in America and said that it puts this debate into perspective. Football is a beautiful game, but at the end of the day it is still only a game. We are debating the Bill tonight because some people view football as more than a game; they use it as a disguise that enables them to get away with their criminal activities by hiding in crowds. Of course, by going among the genuine football fansI am one, as are other hon. Members who have spoken tonightthose morons cause havoc and hide behind the various team colours.
Is it not a disgrace that, on a day when the House heard statements on international terrorism, we find ourselves discussing football hooliganism? We are all ashamed of those cowardly thugs who masquerade as supporters. We can only draw a comparison between those cowards and the brave young men in the forces who are currently on the verge of fighting terrorism abroad. Some older people in my constituency ask, "Why don't you bring back national service, because that will tackle the hooligans?" That would be the worst thing to do because those cowards should not besmirch the great uniform of the armed forces.
The Bill has been introduced for two reasons, to which the Minister alluded earlier. First, it is intended to protect our national game, which is loved by fans up and down the country. None of us, whether or not we are football fans, will ever forget the shameful images screened on our televisions during France 98 and Europe 2000. We must not forget that those images nearly led to a ban on the English team and clubs from all future European competitions.
Secondly, we must protect the good reputation of our country and its citizens abroad. The sight of hooligans wearing our national colours and rioting in the streets of foreign capitals damages our standing as a nation not only in Europe but all over the world, because those scenes are beamed via satellite to Australia, the far east and America. Such scenes cause lasting damage, so I am delighted that the joint action to tackle hooliganism taken by the Football Association and the Government following those disgraceful television scenes seems to be having an early impact, as was shown in the recent England game.
The FA acted responsibly by disbanding the England Members Club, which in many people's opinion became a haven for English thugs travelling abroad under the guise of being decent English fans. By intermingling with decent fans, the hooligans slip into European countries and do their damage. The new Englandfans travel club, which the FA has step up, should stop that. By carrying out stringent checks on its members, it will be more difficult for bogus fans to get tickets to travel to international games. Of course, the changes introduced by the FA would not be enough on their own to stop a determined hooligan, so the Government need to act decisively if we are to avoid a repeat of France 98 and Euro 2000. That is even more important now that we are facing the qualifiers for the World cup in 2002.
Hard action was needed, and hard action was taken. Concerns have been expressed tonight and by civil liberty groups that the Government's measures are too draconian, but most people in my constituency, whether or not they are football fans, would not call them draconian; they would call them common sense. Long before such banning orders were introduced, my constituents were asking, "When on earth will you stop those thugs travelling abroad willy-nilly, ruining our international reputation?" The ability to issue banning orders for non-football-related offences was well received.
The test of the new policy of the Government and the FA was always going to be the vital Germany v. England World cup clash. In the run-up to the game, 500 fans were prevented from travelling abroad and eight people were arrested at various airports throughout the United Kingdom. It must be stressed that those people were not just randomly rounded up and prevented from travelling; they were known troublemakers, who had no interest in football at all, other than using it as a cover for their criminal activities. The outcome was a brilliant England victory, almost free of violence. A small number of German hooligans, not English fans, were blamed for the small amount of violence that took place. That would not have been the case if the orders had not been in place and English fans could have travelled, willy-nilly, and been infiltrated by the thugs.
Although Parliament is involved in solving the international crisis, it is important not to forget domestic issues such as hooliganism at our domestic games. Hooligans, of course, hide behind team colours wherever they arewhether in the United Kingdom, or when travelling abroad under England team colours. The introduction of closed circuit television at grounds, police firmness and other actions taken by clubs have moved the violence away from football grounds to shopping centres, railway stations and pubs. However, we know that the violence still occurs. More than 3,000 arrests were made at football fixtures last year, and we need to stamp out such violence if we are to protect the glittering image of the premiership. With all due respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke), who is a director of Northampton Town football club, we must remember that the reputations of the other clubs in the other English leagues need to be protected.
The measures in the Bill have been tried and tested in the harshest circumstances and have proved to be a success, but I have a word of caution that I hope the Minister will take on board. We cannot be left to act alone. Football hooliganism is not just an English disease; it happens in other parts of the world and, sometimes in European countries, at a far greater level. Although foreign Governments do not condone hooliganism within their countries, they take a far more lenient attitude than we do. If we are to stamp out the problem altogether, we must take a joint European approach.
The Bill's provisions are measured and targeted. They have made a difference already, and they will make a difference in future. However, there is no room for complacency. We must always protect the one thing that is important: the crown jewel of sport in this country and the world that is our soccer.