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8.40 pm

Mr. Denham: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

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The Bill may be short, but it has been the subject of careful scrutiny by the House. I shall not repeat what was said in earlier debates although I was surprised by the power of my oratory when the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) decided after all to enter the same Lobby as the Government instead of supporting his own amendment.

Mr. Grieve: The Minister had better be careful as I understand from the Conservative Whips that he wandered into the wrong Lobby too.

Mr. Denham: Far from it.

There is a strong case for placing on the statute book without time limits sections 14B, 21A and 21B of the Football Spectators Act 1989 as amended by the Football (Disorder) Act 2000. The Government believe that the measures are a tailored and effective response to English football disorder abroad and that they strike the right balance between national and international interests and civil liberties.

I should say for the record that earlier I was referring rhetorically to a conviction 30 years previously being taken into account. As the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said, convictions can be taken into account only if they occurred within 10 years.

The available evidence demonstrates that the measures work. Apart from some disturbances in Germany, which were discussed at length on Second Reading, there has been no significant disorder involving English fans abroad since Euro 2000. The current football season has been up and running for about four months and I am pleased to report that the excellent record of English fans is still in place.

The number of troublemakers prevented from travelling to matches overseas is growing significantly and Governments and police forces across Europe and in Japan and Korea continue to welcome the measures as an on-going declaration on the part of the United Kingdom of our intention to tackle the menace of hooliganism before it leaves these shores. The UEFA threat to expel English football from European competition has not been resurrected.

In short, there is powerful evidence for enshrining sections 14B, 21A and 21B on the statute book without time limit. They withstood a thorough practical and legal examination in the past 14 months and it would be a blow to our national reputation and the image of our national game if they were to be lost next August. That would send out a negative message to our European partners, undermine the English and Welsh anti-hooligan strategy and weaken the power of the police and courts to act against thugs. It would also be seen as an encouragement to hooligans to resume the pattern of repeat offending overseas at a time when England is preparing to embark on its Euro 2004 campaign. I commend the Bill to the House.

8.43 pm

Mr. Grieve: During consideration of the Bill, the Minister has failed to take on board what I believe to be sensible, moderate and justified concerns expressed by

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Opposition Members. They would not in any way have negated the thrust of the Government's intention, which was to put on a more permanent footing legislation which, on its introduction, had commanded support from both sides of the House, and even though it caused some hon. Members to express deep anxieties, was something that could be understood.

We find it very difficult to understand the logic behind the course of action that has been adopted, but we draw some reassurance from the prospect that, given the concomitance of views among Opposition Members, it is likely that individuals in another place will put up a robust defence for civil liberties and try to persuade the Government that, although they should have their Bill, it should not be permanent. That will certainly be the thrust of what we shall seek to achieve later.

On that basis, we are in no position to support the Bill and we do not intend to do so. After all, only last year the Government were prepared to consider a five-year sunset clause, but now they seem set against it. They have introduced this legislation to make permanent what in any event ought only to be temporary on such a paucity of evidence and on the back of one undoubted success—the England v. Germany match—but not on the basis of material on which a rigorous detailed analysis could be conducted as to whether civil liberties were being adversely affected.

In those circumstances, I can tell the Minister that he will have to carry the Bill on the support of Labour Members. We do not wish to have any part in it, and we will seek to review the matter elsewhere.

8.45 pm

David Wright (Telford): I did not get an opportunity to speak on Second Reading, so I appreciate the chance to contribute this evening. I welcome the Bill. It sends the message to those involved in football violence that their actions will not be tolerated, in Britain or abroad.

It is easy to discuss these matters when football violence is absent from the headlines, but we should not forget the shame experienced when supporters of England or of any of our club sides engage in misguided violence abroad in the name of football and the nation. I am sure that many hon. Members share the emotion felt by many when the England team plays in an international tournament. It is an awful feeling when one wakes up, switches on the television and sees hundreds of people rioting in towns in Europe and around the world. It brings tremendous shame on our nation. The Bill makes it clear to the people involved that such violence is unacceptable.

My right hon. Friend the Minister mentioned the need to demonstrate to UEFA and FIFA that the Government have an on-going commitment to dealing with that violence. It is important that we do that, and that we do so in good time. The Bill shows the world and the football authorities that we are serious about dealing with the matter before, during and after the World cup. I hope that the House will support the Bill this evening, so that we can make progress in trying to change our national game, and in dealing with the scourge of the violence that mars international fixtures.

I intend to focus on some of the wider issues and motivations behind football violence, and on how the Bill can contribute towards stopping it, especially in connection with matches involving the England team.

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On Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) spoke about some of the reading material that he had enjoyed over the summer. It included a Marxist analysis of football violence.

The Whips will be pleased to hear that I do not intend to pursue a Marxist analysis of football violence this evening, but some of the intellectual analysis of football over more than 20 years has been interesting. In 1981, Desmond Morris published a classic book called "The Soccer Tribe", which deals with the following that football attracts at national and international level. He likened football to tribalism throughout the ages, and noted that football had many tribal symbols, such as team colours, the status of teams among supporters, the territories involved in home and away games, and the displays of triumph.

I follow lower-league football. I support Shrewsbury Town and Telford United, so there are not many tribal displays for me to become especially worked up about. However, my point is clear: football is a tribal pastime. It provokes a tribal atmosphere among its followers which can, and does, provoke conflict. It is at its most dangerous when allied to a warped sense of nationalism.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman is in danger of making a Second Reading speech. His speech must not be too wide-ranging, because on Third Reading we can debate only the contents of the Bill.

David Wright: I understand your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will endeavour to follow it.

The Bill assists us in dealing with people who engage in a warped form of nationalist violence on the continent and throughout Europe. The Bill gives the police and the courts the authority to deal with people who intend to go abroad and commit violence in the name of a warped sense of nationalism. That is not helped by the way in which the press and media cover football violence. We all remember the front cover of The Mirror at the time of Euro 96. Prior to the England v. Germany game, England players were depicted in second world war helmets. Such coverage, and the link to a warped nationalism, does nothing to assist us in tackling football violence.

The influence of the far right on this warped sense of nationalism—which I hope that the Bill will prevent people taking to Europe—is particularly alarming. It is worrying to see people chanting certain songs at football matches in Europe. I recall hearing "No Surrender"—the watchword of organisations such as Combat 18—being sung during Euro 2000. The Bill endeavours to stop people who provoke violence and warped nationalism from going across the Channel into Europe and taking their hatred abroad.

Other supporters in Great Britain do not seem to have this problem. Scottish and Welsh supporters do not behave in a violently nationalistic manner. The disease seems to apply particularly to England's so-called football supporters.

The Bill will help to alleviate the problem of people travelling abroad to display the nationalism that is linked to football. However, change will be difficult, which is why the measure needs to be enshrined in law in the long term. I share the view that this problem may be with us for some time, unfortunately. We have to show the football authorities that we are committed to dealing with it.

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Desmond Morris said in his book on the subject in 1981:


The Bill attempts to do that.

The other key reform that needs to accompany the Bill is the rejuvenation of the England supporters' formal structure. I know that the Government have considered that and have come forward with proposals.

We need to prompt a more modern and internationalist perspective in relation to our broader national identity and to the approach taken when supporting our national football side. It would be great to have some moderation and support for that in the national media. I hope that the appointment of a non-English football manager will help to change the emphasis on the particularly warped view of nationalism held by many England supporters. I hope that the Bill will go a long way towards stopping people from travelling and causing trouble. People wake up with a terrible feeling in the pit of their stomach during international football events when, once again, we have been disgraced at a national level.

Football is a gift that our country has given to the world; the Bill will help us to celebrate it together.

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