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8.54 pm

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury): There is a sense that, in their haste to clean up our national game, the Government are using a large sledgehammer in sections 14B and 21A and 21B. Recent tragic events, the human rights issues that surround them and our response perhaps put the Government's perfectly understandable desire to control football violence in some sort of context. I believe that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) hinted at that, and we will debate it on Monday. Proportionality is the key and I am not convinced that the balance has been correctly struck. The Law Society appears to agree, in particular about the standard of proof.

We must divorce the argument from notions of national pride and the disgust that we feel at the actions of a small number of our countrymen abroad. We should not be in the business of curtailing traditional liberties to repair our national image or pander to the threats of other bodies, national and international, many of which are also burdened with a violent and distasteful minority. In that respect, the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright) was wrong. To attempt to do so would be a gross presumption on the part of an authoritarian Government. Paradoxically, it would diminish one of the most attractive features of this country in the eyes of others—the freedom that we enjoy and the presumption of innocence.

This Bill is a sticking plaster designed to remedy a small but significant lesion. We do not know, but we surmise, that it will help. Whether or not it does, it has huge implications for the traditional liberties that we enjoy and for which this House stands as guarantor.

I could understand the Government's enthusiasm to curtail the liberties of subjects, or even citizens, if this was a problem that affected sport generically. There might then be more appetite for magisterial legislation of this sort. However, the Bill is designed to deal with a discrete

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problem and, arguably, a declining one at that, notwithstanding an upward blip in arrests relating to football in 2000–01. As such it is surely not appropriate to award the authorities the ability to act against persons without criminal records in the summary manner that is proposed. To do so strikes at the very heart of our system.

While one could be persuaded that the circumstances make it reasonable to support the general thrust of the Bill, one would do so with a heavy heart. Amendment No. 1 and the sunset clause that it proposed would have made the legislation conditional and would have set a time limit for the evaluation of evidence of its effectiveness and operation that we will now lack.

8.58 pm

Simon Hughes: The House of Commons is extremely helpful to hon. Members when we are preparing for debates. Football disorder matters have come before the House often in recent years, so the Library has on more than one occasion produced briefings for colleagues. The research paper that it produced in July 2000 on what was the draft Football (Disorder) Bill, which became the Act that we are trying to make permanent now, contained the reminder that this issue has been knocking around for an extraordinarily long time. On the first page it states:

—[Hon. Members: "Millwall".] I hear completely unjustified allegations from colleagues, such as the Members for Colchester United and for Hereford United and even, for all I know, the Member for Telford United, that the fans of certain clubs might cause trouble. I must place on record that, although it has been around for a long time, the great and ever-rising Millwall football club, which is eighth in the first division and on its way up to the premiership, was not around in the 14th century, much though it would have benefited the country had it been there. Playing football was an imprisonable offence in those days.

The research paper notes that we have introduced the following legislation to deal with football-related matters: the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc) Act 1985; the Public Order Act 1986; the Football Spectators Act 1989; the Football (Offences) Act 1991; the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc) (Amendment) Act 1992; the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994; the Crime and Disorder Act 1998; and the Football (Offences and Disorder) Act 1999. However, the Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs tells us that the most recent measure, which became law in July 2000 and took effect in August 2000, to which we gave a life of two years—the Opposition defeated the Government in the House of Lords and amended the Bill accordingly—and for which we approved a second year only in July 2001, should now come back to us only four months later in order to be made permanent legislation.

I was happy to hear the speech made by the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison)—I had not previously heard him speak in the House. He made the

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point that we tried to teach the Government the lesson of history: that, on the basis of logic and precedent, it is nonsense to believe that we know now what we shall need in four years.

My view and that of my colleagues is clear. We did not support an unconditional Bill when it was introduced a year and a half ago. We tried to restrict it as much as we could, but we were only partially successful. However, we obtained a guarantee that it would be brought back within two years. We got it back after a year—at half-time—but we did not make a big fuss because we knew that it would return shortly. It is now back with us.

We do not believe that it is appropriate for Parliament to make permanent legislation that bans people from travelling without allowing them enough time to make an appeal that would let them attend games. We believe that things may be much better in four years. It may be enough to introduce limited powers to curb the right to travel of people with previous convictions and about whom there is suspicion.

The test for us is whether the Bill is temporary or permanent. By defeating the amendment, jointly tabled by the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, the Government present us with no option but permanent or nothing. We believe that it would be better to defeat the measure so that this Bill with permanent provisions should not go to the other end of the building. The Government have plenty of time—until August next year—to introduce the simple one or two clause Bill that would be necessary to extend the life of the existing legislation, either for four years, as we recommended, or for a lesser period.

A permanent Bill is not justified. We agree with the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) that that argument will prevail in the other place. We ask the House to vote against permanent legislation. It is a bad practice, unsupported by the evidence, and we shall divide the House.

9.4 pm

Mr. Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West): As I spoke on Second Reading and in the Standing Committee, I had not intended to speak on Third Reading until my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) and other hon. Members talked about their football clubs. My hon. Friend referred to the tribal affinities in football clubs and I realised that, as a lifelong supporter of Cheltenham Town, I must be a Chelt. On the other side of the House I recognise a fellow-Chelt—the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones)—so I suppose that we could say that the Cheltic hordes are here today, although I suspect that the hon. Gentleman will not be joining me in the Lobby on this issue. However, I want to make a couple of points because they have not been given ample recognition in the debate so far.

Much has been said about the need to include a sunset clause because of the basic civil liberty issues involved. However, the Bill will operate only for designated international football matches, and it has a mechanism by which some matches, for a variety of reasons, may not be designated as requiring the full weight of the legislation to be brought into operation.

If hooliganism at international matches diminishes as time progresses and the balance of civil liberty considerations changes, the sensible way to deal with the

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reduction in violence is not to designate those matches. So we can keep the powers in reserve without having recourse to debate further legislation in Parliament, but we do not have to signal to the fans at large that the legislation is no longer operational.

That is a far better way to balance the civil liberties and the anti-crime and disorder policies necessary to protect our international football matches and the status of the England team and its supporters than simply including a sunset clause or not having the legislation at all. The Bill represents a much better way to deal with those issues and it should not be opposed, so I ask the House to back it.

9.7 pm

Mr. Denham: With the leave of the House, I shall reply very briefly to the debate. The hon. Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) and for Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) will not mind my saying that the fact that other hon. Members have contributed to this evening's debate is welcome. As the hon. Member for Beaconsfield said, subject to the outcome of any Division tonight, the Bill will be discussed in another place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Telford (David Wright) made the very important point, which we should always acknowledge in considering such legislation, that we are dealing with cultural and social problems, and legislation can only ever represent one part of our strategy for dealing with the underlying difficulties that have been with us for several hundred years, as the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said. During this debate, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey asked us not only to understand that the problems have existed for 500 years, but to anticipate that they might all be resolved in the next 18 months; therefore, the legislation will be needed for no longer than that.

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