Previous SectionIndexHome Page

8.50 pm

Mr. David Cameron (Witney): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who knows a lot about his subject. Not only is he a football fan, he is quite an accomplished cricket player, as I discovered during a game this summer.

Many of those who have spoken in the debate or have written about the subject are either lawyers or football fans, but I have to confess that I am neither: I am just a

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1007

novice parliamentarian who is trying to work out whether the draconian powers in the Bill are really necessary. I fear that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) will decide that I am a member of the pussyfoot tendency when he hears what I have to say, but I believe that this is an important debate.

The debate is important, first, because we are dealing with what has been a desperate problem for this country—football hooliganism—and secondly, because we are discussing serious measures that will affect our freedoms. I accept that the background is one of overall success in football. As the hon. Member for Leigh said, there is less racism in football. Attendances are growing, accompanied by decreases in the number of offences, crimes and arrests. Football is one place where things are getting better.

Like many hon. Members, I have always been struck by an uneasy feeling when England travels abroad to play football, not just because I want the team to win so much and fear that they will not do so, but because I fear that when I switch on my television set I will see terrible news about hooliganism and dreadful behaviour. However, I also feel uneasy about the Bill.

I have no difficulty with the concept of banning orders or with the previous measure's provision combining international and domestic banning orders to stop people seeing football matches either at home or abroad. Neither do I have a problem with the idea of taking someone's passport away after a banning order has been looked at by the court. However, I have some difficulty with the concept of courts imposing bans on individuals who have no convictions, although I acknowledge the statement in the explanatory notes:

I repeat "shown"—

At least in that case the defendant has his day in court.

My real difficulty, which I am sure some hon. Members share, is with the police stopping individuals leaving the country because—well, just because. That is the big question. Perhaps the police just do not like the look of the individuals concerned. The explanatory notes state that the police can

That is the difficult bit—the bit that leads one to ask what has happened to the concept of criminal proof in our criminal justice system, to our ability to travel freely, and to the crucial principle of innocent until proven guilty.

The hon. Member for Leigh says that we are dealing with a unique problem, but is it unique? In a way, every crime is unique, but we do not resort to measures such as those in the Bill. That is why we must think very carefully about them. I instinctively trust the police; none the less, it makes me nervous when we give them increased powers—especially powers of the nature of those in the Bill—because it increases the chance of abuse. If we give the police too many extra specific powers, a few bad apples could give the police service a bad name.

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1008

We should always think and debate carefully before we give more and more specific powers to the police. We should ask them to use everything else first.

Are the police using all the possible intelligence to follow hooligans and to share information with other police forces? Are they doing everything to help the French, Dutch and Belgian police forces to arrest people in those countries instead of Parliament giving our police service more powers? Sometimes, even the police are nervous about being given extra specific powers. When I was a naive special adviser in the Home Office, I remember visiting the Police Federation. At that time the great concern was over identity cards and whether we should have them. A member of the federation said, "If we have identity cards, we would need to have a power of arrest in respect of those not carrying cards, and that would be bureaucratic." Naively, I asked, "What do you do now?" He replied, "We have the ways and means Act." I asked what it was, and he said, "I stand on someone's toe and he calls me an expletive deleted, and I arrest him for a breach of the peace." Sometimes the police are sceptical about new specific powers.

It must be said that there has been an enormous amount of legislation on football disorder. We have had the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol) Act 1985, the Public Order Act 1996 and the Football Spectators Act 1989. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe read out some of the Acts—

Mr. Grieve: Beaconsfield.

Mr. Cameron: I am sorry. Beaconsfield and Wycombe are not far from each other, but geographically I was wrong.

We have had almost more football Acts than England victories abroad in certain years. There has been so much legislation and we should be nervous about passing so many Acts related to this one area of football. As my hon. Friend said, we want to see evidence that the Bill will be worth while.

It is clear that there is evidence to show that there has been overall improvement. About 100,000 British fans have transversed Europe since Euro 2000, yet there have been only 43 reported arrests. However, is there evidence to support the specific powers that are set out in the Bill? The report to Parliament on that issue is helpful, and I have read it carefully, but, I hope that I am not alone in finding it rather thin. Could we not find a little more detail?

Will the Minister be able to give us more detail about those who went to court and were not banned? How long did those cases take? Of the orders made by the police, how many did the courts eventually endorse? Which police forces have used the powers in the current Act? What did those forces find? What did they think of the powers set out in the Act? Could we have reports from magistrates or stipendiary magistrates who have dealt with the powers? Could we have reports from police authorities that have been using the current Act? Could such reports be placed in the Library so that we might see them?

I would be grateful if the Minister were to say whether we have dealt with the anomaly that the Act did not cover people travelling from Scottish ports or airports to England matches. The issue was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) when the Act was last debated.

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1009

In general, if we take away liberties we should do so only on the basis of the most serious and compelling evidence. There are Opposition Members who will be looking to those on the Government Benches to say more about that. Why are we renewing the Act before we have to, given that it takes away liberties? As we are renewing it, should we not renew every year the key clauses that I have mentioned? I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford on that point. We are dealing with important civil liberties. These are that people are innocent until proven guilty and the criminal standard of proof. I would like to see sunset clauses rather than the sun set permanently over some of the rights that we are considering.

To sum up, most of us will support the legislation at the end of the day. We will back it because we are appalled, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford said most movingly, by the behaviour of a few thugs. In this country, on the whole, we trust the police and magistrates to behave reasonably and not abuse the powers that Parliament has given them. However, I hope that Members will forgive me for being a little nervous about taking away those liberties, even in those restricted categories. We are in desperate need of reassurance from the Minister. In a previous debate on the matter, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) said that there is no excuse for thuggish behaviour, but we should not respond to thuggish behaviour with thuggish laws. He made a good point; we need the reassurance of facts and figures before we take away people's rights in such important areas of civil liberty.

9.1 pm

Dr. Ian Gibson (Norwich, North): I am sure that the House will forgive me if I do not emulate the stories of Members who support the English national team. I do not have that problem as I support the Scottish national team; events and excitements there are few and far between these days. I also support Norwich City football club, where there have been very few problems over the years—although I remember Manchester United fans tearing down the asbestos cladding at the back of the Barclay stand, which could, I suppose, be regarded as a piece of social engineering. On the other hand, they did that out of frustration. Scottish fans have not always been innocent. We took a fancy to the grass at Wembley one year and I confess that I was there. Much of the turf was removed to the chagrin of Jimmy Hill and others, but I noticed that it was replaced with much better quality grass by the following weekend.

I had trouble finding instances of football disorder of which I had personal experience, so I turned to the usual source for understanding the problem—academic sociologists, who are part of a growth industry and have no trouble at all getting grants to undertake sociological studies of football hooliganism. I should like to take a little time to analyse some of the stuff that they have come out with. I might say that it does not add much to the debate, but it is interesting that they have done a lot of work.

I shall give Members the titles of one or two papers that I have had the excitement of reading over the summer. Eduardo Archetti wrote an article entitled

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1010

"Playing Styles and Masculine Virtues in Argentine Football" in "Machos, Mistresses, Madonnas: Contesting the Power of Latin American Gender Imagery". Great reading. "The Postmodernity of Football Hooliganism" appeared in the British Journal of Sociology. Other articles are "Football Hooliganism and the Practical Paradigm" and "Soccer Crowd Disorder and the Press: Processes of Amplification and Deamplification in Historical Perspective". I am sure that every Northampton fan would certainly benefit from that. An old friend of mine who, I remember, was quite a good goalkeeper, has gone back to Scotland and written "The Cappielow Riot and the Composition and Behaviour of Soccer Crowds in Late Victorian Scotland"—essential reading for analysis of the Bill. "Faith, Hope and Bigotry: Case Studies of Anti-Catholic Prejudice in Scottish Soccer and Society" is another article; there are others, such as "Selling the Game Short". A mass of them have kept me busy for several nights.

There are various explanations for football hooliganism, and I shall go through them quickly. There are as many explanations as there are sociologists in British universities. One explanation is that hooliganism

People engage in it

We need to know why people pursue their recreation, as it were, by going to a football match. Some argue that the state of modern living creates the problems; the modern consumer life style increasingly lacks a sense of danger or ordeal, and people want to get rid of boredom. An extension of that is the Marcuse argument, which is a reaction against the surplus state repression. Some Members will identify with that, having written essays on it in their youth. The culture of pursuing danger, risk taking and creativity can involve exciting activities. We can fall off mountains or go on holiday in war zones; we do not need to have a punch-up at a football match to create that kind of excitement.

I ask Members to bear with me for a few more minutes while I tell them about some more analyses. There is the gender-centred analysis involving aggressive, troubled, hegemonic or empowering masculinity. There is the neo-tribal hypothesis, with individuals promoting self-identity and self-definition. The structural Marxists have come in on it as well, with an attempt to reclaim the magical camaraderie and intimacy of a lost working class system of traditional communities. No doubt that is a favourite of many hon. Members present. The Leicester school says that hooligan participants are simply roughs. They are lower working class and just love violence. That is the result of a £200,000 sociological study.

The police, too, have promoted some interesting analyses in Home Office documents, with references to

with official statuses of generals, lieutenants, armourers and photographers who

Gary Armstrong's latest book "Football Hooligans" is a story of Sheffield United fans. Sheffield seems to figure prominently in analyses of football. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts), who is a

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1011

great back four player, spoke earlier. As his manager, I do man-to-man marking analysis with him, and he is a wonderful man-to-man marker—no violence, but my goodness, does he prevent the opposition from moving about in the penalty area.

Gary Armstrong starts with the statement that the war against hooligans has a long way to go, whatever the definition of hooligans turns out to be. Reference has been made to the National Criminal Intelligence Service's report of 20 August this year. The report admits that violent football hooliganism continued to increase during last season. The incidents reported to the unit by football intelligence officers is significantly up on the same period last year. That seems to apply to all divisions, so the problem clearly exists.

Armstrong's analysis questions the emphasis placed by the police on patrolling football matches. He thinks that their time would be better spent catching petty thieves and on burglary-related issues. He goes on to state:

I can tell the House that sociological violence has broken out across the nation as each sociology department in every British university disagrees with all the others about their analyses.

I doubt whether we will get to the explanation, despite the money spent on sociological analyses, and I doubt whether that will help us to develop policy, but I can assure the House that much effort has been put into the endeavour, and many young students are no doubt bored to death after being subjected to such sociological guff.

Episodes will continue to happen and, as we say in Norfolk, there are wrong 'uns who will always be around, looking for a bit of trouble. The police have identified that in their document, where they state that in the close vicinity of stadiums they have been successful, but that the problem has been displaced. Other hon. Members have mentioned that tonight. It is recognised that the problem is moving from the football grounds.

What are we to do about it? Again, I refer to Sheffield politicians. There have been many debates in the House in which Sheffield politicians have participated. I shall not name the individuals; hon. Members can spot them. In 1989 in the debate on the Football Spectators Bill, a Sheffield Member of Parliament welcomed hooliganism as an outlet for violence, but at the same time said that hooligans must be eradicated. The mind boggles at the thought of how he proposed to do that. There was a certain inconsistency in the argument.

Other Sheffield Members called for a change in police attitudes to fans, and another hon. Member spoke of football's

That was the Front-Bench spokesperson—not tonight, but in another arena. I see that some hon. Members recognise who that might be.

The problem will continue and probably increase. The NCIS document states that

15 Oct 2001 : Column 1012

and so on. The police are encouraged by those developments.

On balance, I think that the Government are right to take the problem seriously and to try to ensure an effective deterrent. Whatever the origins of football hooliganism, the development of that deterrent will prevent and discourage people from going to games in order to engage in such activity. I am serious about that because I do not want to read football headlines that argue about who threw the stone first, who punched who and so on. I want to hear about Iwan Roberts scoring a hat trick for Norwich City. Indeed, I will even go along with applauding a David Beckham goal and reading an analysis of the trajectory of the ball as it went into the top corner. Even considering a physical analysis of how such a shot works would be better than reading headlines about violence. Anything that we can do to detract from the bad headlines that we have had over the years is welcome. I believe that the Bill goes a long way towards achieving that and that the public will respect us for introducing it. We must support it.

Next Section

IndexHome Page