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9.10 pm

Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South): The debate has been somewhat truncated, so I shall try to curtail my speech and keep to the relevant rather than the repetitive, in the hope that other Back Benchers may still be able to contribute.

This debate gives us the opportunity to do two things. First, we must reaffirm our determination to combat and fight the football hooliganism that still exists. Secondly, we must review the question whether the 2000 Act, in its current context, has worked, is working and is making a difference. Within football, the figures show that 580 banning orders have been put in place. That has been done with the support and assistance of football supporters and of organisations such as the Football Supporters Association, which have given their unstinting and total support to the Government in trying to eradicate yobbery and thuggery from the game. They have even suggested that the measures did not go far enough in respect of the courts. They feel that, in many cases, courts could and should have done better in ensuring that banning orders were used to prevent known and convicted hooligans from travelling.

Many hon. Members have mentioned Charleroi. One of the most stunning and worrying aspects of the violence that occurred in Belgium was that 24 of the 965 people who were arrested were known football hooligans. They had previous convictions and should have been picked up by the banning orders and prevented from travelling, but they still slipped through the net. Irrespective of our best intentions and attempts to prevent all circumstances in which people with criminal convictions can travel to games, some of them will find ways of avoiding our measures. Such people have no respect for the law or the restrictions that we introduce and will try to circumvent any attempt that we make to stop their illegal action.

The vast majority of the 965 people who were arrested were released without charge and took no part whatever in any criminal activity and/or violence. Football fans,

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the FSA and others who have given the Government their support are due some return. If we are asking football supporters and true followers of the game to work with us and be part of our attempt to rid the game of hooliganism, we must give them our support when things go badly wrong, as they did in Charleroi. If anything, we need a way not only of dealing with hooligans, but of ensuring a proper code of conduct for police forces throughout Europe in respect of football events. What happened in Charleroi was an abuse of police powers. People were detained in the most terrible conditions, although it has since been proven that they were innocent of any offence.

It is important for us to recognise that violence has been displaced over the years and has moved away from the event itself. It has departed from grounds and moved into areas that are unconnected with football. Irrespective of whether the Bill is permanent or will be reviewed, that displacement will be more important in future, when we consider how yobbish behaviour is affecting our national identity and shaming us as a nation. Violence and thuggery still exist.

I shall quote from the press report of a recent incident at an international fixture:

That report was of an international cricket fixture.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) wondered whether there was class distinction in the legislation. An earlier news report covered an Oxbridge ski tour at a resort in France. It described the participants as a mob of

who abused foreigners and soiled their bedrooms and chalets.

If we wish to descend further down the class structure, we can read another recent report of the behaviour of drunken yobs. It states:

I mention that because yobbery, violence and thuggery exist in British society, and our nation is shamed by the acts of thugs, irrespective of whether they have a connection with football. When travelling abroad, I try to avoid Benidorm and Ibiza. However, I cannot be the only Member of Parliament who dreads not only the accommodation, but visiting the bar and the possible presence of 15 or 20 male British holidaymakers who seem dedicated to three pursuits: lubricating the larynx as often as possible; trying to charm the pants off any unfortunate member of the opposite sex who happens to be in the bar—television programmes suggest that most of

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them do not wear any—and picking a fight with anybody, especially anyone who has the audacity not to speak the Queen's English.

Examples of thuggery and violence can be witnessed in other events such as marches and demonstrations. In recent months, problems occurred in Geneva, and in the United Kingdom on May day. When we consider the identity of those involved and the infiltration of such events by, for example, right-wing organisations and thugs, we must accept that some people are hellbent on causing problems—not only at football games but at other events—that shame our nation and the House. Such problems occur on Friday and Saturday nights at many restaurants and pubs in every town and city in the land.

Violence and disorder are a moveable feast; they are played on different stages. I urge Ministers to develop a more robust and multi-faceted approach to tackling yob culture, and not simply to treat football in isolation. I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North and my hon. Friend the Member for Jarrow (Mr. Hepburn) for mentioning Northampton Town. I declare an interest as a club director, but we are rightly proud of the measures that we have taken to eradicate hooliganism, yobbery and racism and to ensure that football is an event to which people can bring families and enjoy themselves in peaceful surroundings without the threat of violence. We get fed up when people refer to hooligans as football fans. They are not fans; they never have been. They use football as a vehicle for thuggery and violence.

In Committee, we must seriously consider the role of the media. We cannot support the fact that, before any violence and thuggery had occurred, every television camera at Charleroi was prepared to project such images around the world, thereby shaming Britain. It was almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. We expected trouble and the cameras were there, so we almost invited the thugs who wanted to unleash their criminal activity on us to do so.

I say to my right hon. Friend the Minister that I dissent from the Bill only in its title. Perhaps the word "football" should be omitted. Perhaps the House ought to discuss a disorder Bill that would prevent thugs from practising their yobbery wherever they wish to do so. Perhaps we should consider how to prevent people with criminal convictions from travelling to holiday destinations year on year to involve themselves in violence, shaming this nation.

I hope that Ministers listen to the voices, even those on the Opposition Benches, that say that we must not stigmatise football and that we must not focus narrowly by considering only the longevity of a measure. We must look more widely at where violence can present itself and how it can be combated.

9.21 pm

Mr. John Grogan (Selby): I have the misfortune to follow four powerful and well-informed speeches. Although the hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) spoke from opposite sides of the House, they drew on their experience as special advisers, which is a brave boast to make tonight. We heard of the scholarship of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson), who I shall never consider in the same light again having heard of his holiday reading.

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My hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, South (Mr. Clarke) drew on his experience as a football director and he was right to point out that violent behaviour is a problem for society as well as for football. The behaviour that we saw on the streets of Charleroi is repeated in many holiday destinations year on year and we need to examine our attitude to drink and the drinking culture. The licensing laws are relevant here. When English people go abroad, they suddenly find that they can drink through the night and they behave badly in many, many contexts. Football is a specific problem, however.

Largely through the work and campaigning of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), we know what the typical football hooligan looks like. I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, as the typical football hooligan is not necessarily a young man. The average age of those who have suffered a banning order is 31 and of the 1,000 British people expelled during Euro 2000, only 50 were on benefits. The average football hooligan is not particularly young, as he is approaching middle age, and not particularly poor, as he is probably in a well-paid job.

I have never supported England abroad and my club is Bradford City, so I have had precious little opportunity to follow it overseas. However, I went to a game during the last World cup—Jamaica against Croatia, which was a happy occasion. Jamaican families were present, as were Croatian youths who had crossed the continent to western Europe, perhaps for the first time, to support their team. Just along the way from me were three English fans, who were drunk. They completely dominated the atmosphere. Every time Croatia got the ball, they stood up and chanted in unison, "You're all a load of collaborators!" Presumably, that was a reference to the war, and they added expletives as well.

The identity of English football fans abroad is based on attacking the IRA or looking back to the war. That has to change; it is absurd. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh correctly pointed out, not only a mindless minority are involved. Sadly, that xenophobic attitude is shared by a significant proportion of those who support England abroad, which is why the Government had to take strong action last year.

The way in which we are considered by the rest of Europe has changed because of that legislation. A year ago, other European Governments were saying, "Why didn't you introduce strong measures to deal with this?" As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North pointed out, other European Governments are now considering copying our legislation. Indeed, there is a good sign that Belgium, which is soon to accede to the presidency of the European Union, has made dealing with football hooliganism throughout Europe one of its priorities. It held a seminar in May and proposes the creation of a system of national contact points on football and the establishment of common rules on the prevention of hooliganism.

Thus at a time when other European countries are looking at the lead that we have taken it is entirely appropriate that we make this legislation permanent. So far, it has worked well. Where those subject to banning orders have needed to travel abroad there have been 30 instances in which, for work or family reasons, they have appealed and have quite properly been allowed to travel. This legislation is not draconian; it is measured and considered.

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Some hon. Members have talked of the importance of other nations prosecuting football hooligans abroad so that we have a firm basis on which to impose banning orders here at home. Over the summer, the Daily Express carried an exclusive under the byline Tony Banks—I presume that he is no relation—which quoted the director of security in Japan for World cup 2002 as saying:

for football hooliganism—

Our football fans are warned.

I also note that the Koreans will ban noodles, cigarettes and balloons from stadiums in a bid to reduce litter at the new grounds. Fans will be given small plastic bags to take into the stadiums to encourage them to take their own rubbish away. I think that there will be one or two cultural differences.

I commend the taskforce report on hooliganism produced by Lord Bassam. Let me draw attention to two of its findings, the first of which is the extremely important work of fans' embassies abroad. Lord Bassam urges the Government to continue to support those embassies, which are run by fans and which try to encourage football fans to participate in the culture of a big tournament such as the World cup. The second idea is that of sending stewards from English clubs with English fans abroad. The next European championship will take place in Portugal in 2004. There might be a shortage of English stewards who speak Portuguese, but they have two or three years in which to learn it. Such initiatives are well worth considering.

The FA, under the leadership of Adam Crozier, is to be commended. It is trying to widen England's fan base, which certainly needs widening. England needs far more women and children to support it abroad. It is also a good thing that the FA has insisted that crucial matches of our national game are shown live on terrestrial television. If England matches are not to become a marginal interest, they must be shown to all fans on terrestrial television. The whole House hopes that the law enacted by the British Parliament is respected and that a deal is finally done for the transmission of the World cup.

I commend the Bill to the House, but much more must be done to encourage, both at home and abroad, the sort of policing that we saw in the Netherlands during the European championships. Lord Bassam referred to such policing as friendly but firm hospitality, or an integrated approach. I hope that we shall soon reach the day when, if we can keep this sort of legislation in place, we can all be truly proud of our national team and its achievements.

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