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8.29 pm

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford): Members on both sides have said that the Bill is extremely modest. If one strips out the standard provisions, such as the commencement date and the clause on expenses, one is left with a simple clause that, on the face of it, appears extremely modest. However, when one studies in depth the Bill and the amendments that it seeks to make to previous legislation, one realises just how significant and far reaching the Government's proposals are.

The Government are seeking to extend—in effect, for ever—the provisions that were contained in the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 and that had a time limit. I have heard the reasons for that and I must confess from my knowledge of the background that I have a slightly different perspective. When I introduced a Bill in 1998, I was united with the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), in that I wanted my Bill to contain precisely the proposals that we are now debating and that will remain in place for as long as the legislation is on the statute book.

I considered many other provisions in my Bill extremely worth while and badly needed in helping to tackle a pressing problem that was constantly dragging the reputation of English football, in particular, and this country into the gutter. I felt that that problem could no longer be tolerated. However, as I said in the Committee considering my Bill, I concluded that the mechanism of a

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private Member's Bill was not the right one to put on the statute book highly contentious measures that struck at the heart of civil liberties. I argued that the Government should introduce them in their own legislation and be backed by their in-built majority in the House. When I decided to introduce amendments in Committee, I thought that I had a deal with the Government that they would introduce such legislation. Ultimately, they did and I supported them.

There is another discrepancy in the accounts given of the history of this Bill, and that is the view that the extension of the legislation is a natural conclusion. Labour Members' remarks on the Bill's time scale and the decision-making processes involved do not quite square with the facts. I do not want to strike a particularly discordant note, but the fact is that the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), was desperate, as parliamentary time was running out, to get the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 on the statute book before the summer recess. He wanted the powers in that Act to be in place in time for the England v. France match to be played at the beginning of September that year.

That Act contained highly contentious provisions and was open ended in its effect. The Government were concerned that they would either lose it in another place or not get it through before the summer recess, so they wisely and sensibly compromised. In effect, they bowed to the pressure coming particularly from Members of the other place and they introduced a sunset clause.

We are now 12 months down the line and it is logical and consistent that the Government should come to the House with this modest and far-ranging Bill. It is right that the state should have the powers necessary to deal with this problem. It should have them for as long as the legislation remains in force and until any future Parliament may have a change of mind and reverse the decision of this Parliament and of the previous one that approved the 2000 Act.

I do not have a problem with the legislation, because for far too long this country has had to tolerate the inane, asinine and disgraceful behaviour of a very small minority of mindless thugs and hooligans. It is an insult to football supporters to call those people football supporters, because most of them are not. Life has moved on and they are criminals and thugs. Like leeches, they cling to the game to advance their agendas, whether that is to engage in simple mindless violence or, equally seriously, to further the criminal interests of those who are involved in organised crime and who latch on to the game and the crowds who attend football matches as law-abiding citizens. This state needs to take decisive and, I accept, draconian action, because we have had to put up with such behaviour for far too long.

One other thing concerns me. Of course we have a duty to protect the civil liberties of the minority, but we also have a duty to protect the civil liberties of the majority—the honest, decent and law-abiding citizens, and their families and young children, who simply want to go out for an afternoon or evening of entertainment to see two football teams opposing each other for 90 minutes at the highest levels of sportsmanship. For far too long and too often, the civil liberties of the majority have been trodden on remorselessly by the minority. There comes a time when we have to stop being "goody two shoes", bending over backwards to protect the interests of the minority,

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and say, "Enough is enough. We have given you your chances. You will not reform, so we are going to act to stamp out or minimise the continuing behaviour that causes so much misery and so many problems for our national sport." That is why I support what is happening and what is proposed.

The Government have the majority that they require to win any Division on the Bill. I hope that noble Members in another place pay close attention to the strength of the will of the House, which will be demonstrated if we have to vote, and to our will as demonstrated last year, because we still have a problem. If one studies the statistics, it is clear that the number of arrests fell between 1992–93 and 1999–2000, mostly as a result of a dramatic decline in football violence inside stadiums. That happened for a variety of reasons—partly because of policing and stewarding and partly because of intelligence gathered. I join the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) in paying tribute to the work of the police and their intelligence network, because they do a fantastic job.

In 2000–01, there has been a rise in the number of arrests—a relatively small one, but still a rise. If one includes the number of arrests from European club competitions and at international fixtures, the total is significant. There have been 4,162 arrests, of which 301 were at FA cup matches, 160 at Worthington cup matches, 35 at England home matches and 80 at England away matches. Since 1997, there has also been an increase in violent football-related offences, such as affray, running on to the pitch, racist chanting, throwing missiles and assault. I find those figures disturbing. Arrests for the offence of affray, for example, increased between 1996–97 and 2000–01, from 19 to 165; that is a significant increase. For the throwing of missiles, arrests increased from 11 to 107; arrests for assault increased from 19 to 137 and for violent disorder from 23 to 85. Those statistics are all for violent crime. Interestingly, however, the number of arrests for drink-related offences has fallen. That is encouraging, but the increase in arrests for violence in its different manifestations is a cause for concern and further illustrates the need and justification for the Bill.

The number of arrests for racist and indecent chanting has also risen significantly. Is that because such episodes of disgraceful behaviour are happening more frequently, or because the law has been systematically tightened up and the FA and others have sought to highlight the problem and introduce constructive and workable ways of minimising it? If the latter is the case, that is a positive step forward; but if the former, it is disturbing.

In conclusion, we cannot afford to pussyfoot around. I respect the views held by others on this matter, but we must concentrate on the civil liberties and rights of the majority and give them the protection that they richly deserve, which for too long has been threatened and taken away from them by the activities of the minority. For that reason, I believe that the Bill, however unpalatable it may be to some, is the right way forward. I hope that it becomes law during this parliamentary. Session, providing the authorities with another weapon to tackle a social disease that has bedevilled this country for far too long.

8.44 pm

Andy Burnham (Leigh): A number of hon. Members have made good points tonight, particularly the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns). I will not

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cover the same ground in the course of my observations, but as I was an adviser to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport during the Euro 2000 tournament and, before that, to the Government's football taskforce, I hope that I can bring a useful perspective and some new observations to our proceedings.

I speak with 20 years' experience of following Everton football club, home and away. I have been to many England games over the years, including the matches at France 98 and Euro 2000, and saw at first hand the incidents that provoked the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 and which the Bill is intended to confront.

Some Members—most notably the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes)—have expressed concern about the civil liberties implications of the measures, and it is right that those implications be considered. However, I suggest that had those Members been in Marseille or Charleroi, seen the appalling scenes and felt the intense shame of being English, as I did on those occasions, they would have been persuaded to soften their view.

The Bill deals with a unique problem, and that is why its measures are justified. It attacks the perception of some young men that they have a right to go overseas, flout the laws of another country and cause general havoc, supposedly in the name of supporting England. That is a liberty that they have taken for far too long and it must be curtailed. Football violence is a complex problem. By its nature, it is difficult to identify and confront. Blunt instruments are needed to deal with it. The Bill gives the authorities the tools that they need to prevent the scenes that have marred previous summers and tournaments.

Hon. Members have suggested that the problems of supporting England abroad are caused by a few bad apples. Having seen the events at first hand, I do not accept that. England's away supporters traditionally attracted the worst elements of many football league clubs in this country. Until now, the whole culture of following England has been rotten—hostile, xenophobic and racist. It encourages and endorses unacceptable behaviour, disrespect for others and disregard for the laws of other countries. Although the measures will help to root out the bad apples, many others—most notably the Football Association—have a responsibility to continue to purge the culture prevailing in English football support abroad.

Before I come to my main point, I want to raise two specific issues that I would like the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, North-East (Mr. Ainsworth), to address in his winding-up speech. First, for the legislation to work, proper enforcement is crucial. For all the sense that the spotter system used by the National Criminal Intelligence Service at recent major tournaments makes in principle, it is not working on the ground. In Marseilles and Charleroi, it was blatantly obvious to many of us who the troublemakers were and in which bars the first glass or chair was likely to be thrown. However, the authorities did not seem to reach the same conclusion. Once trouble began, it got out of hand very quickly and was then impossible to contain. I urge the Government to look closely at the spotter system and to take steps to make it more effective.

Secondly, the success of the Bill depends in part on persuading other Governments to take action and to prosecute England football fans who are guilty of

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committing offences abroad. I understand the desire of countries on the receiving end of such appalling behaviour to deport the troublemakers at the first opportunity, but if they can be persuaded to prosecute and secure a conviction, it would help us to tackle the problem in the long term. That would give the British authorities immediate cause to impose banning orders, and would be a powerful deterrent to others.

Perhaps the Government could come to an agreement with the Governments of countries where England is due to play—starting with Japan and Korea—that troublemakers will be prosecuted. If necessary, the Government could consider making a contribution to the costs that would be incurred by Governments pursuing such convictions.

The Government are right to keep the Bill focused on the problems created by England followers abroad, but that brings me to my one substantive concern. I would not like the authorities in this country to use the powerful measures that the Bill will put at their disposal to crack down on football supporters in general. In discussing football violence, a clear distinction must always be drawn between the culture of following England abroad and that of following league clubs at home and away. They are very different. The latter provides great enjoyment to millions of law-abiding and decent men, women and children in this country. It is already heavily regulated—perhaps over-regulated—and there is no justification for any further steps to limit the few freedoms that football fans enjoy.

On countless occasions, I have witnessed fans being unfairly treated by police or stewards, or unfairly ejected from football grounds, but because they are football fans, that is apparently okay. It is as if they have no recourse to argument or reason, but can just be taken out of the ground and that is that. I urge the Government to consider those concerns carefully and to ensure that the interests of people who support football week in, week out in this country are not weakened or undermined by the passing of this legislation. Subject to that proviso, I welcome the Bill, coupled with the steps that the Football Association has taken to abolish the England Members Club. I hope that, in the long term, it will transform the culture of supporting England abroad.

It is possible to achieve this. At Goodison Park in the late 1980s, racist chanting and abuse were frequently heard and, I am sorry to say, tolerated by many. However, many true Evertonians did not accept it: they challenged it and slowly things began to get better. Now, I am proud to say that Everton football club has its first ever black club captain. That proves that it is possible to break the hold that a nasty element can have over following a club or country. The measures being adopted will help, but it will take all decent England supporters to stand up and be counted and reject the behaviour of those who bring shame on this country.

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