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Session 2001- 02
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Standing Committee Debates
Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

Standing Committee A

Tuesday 23 October 2001


[Mr. Eric Illsley in the Chair]

Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

4.30 pm

Clause 1

Repeal of provisions ofFootball (Disorder) Act 2000

Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield): I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 4, leave out

    `subsections (2)' and insert—

    `(a) subsection (2) is replaced by the following—

    ``(2) But—

    (a) no application under section 14B of the Football Spectators Act 1989 (banning orders made on a complaint) may be made, and

    (b) no power conferred on a constable by section 21A or 21B of that Act (summary measures) may be exercised,

    after the end of the period of five years beginning with the day on which section 1 of the Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Act 2001 enters into force.'', and

    (b) subsections (3).'.

The Chairman: With this we may take the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 4, leave out `subsections (2) to (5) are' and insert `subsection (2)(a) is'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 4, at end insert

    `and the following subsections are inserted—

    ``(2) No—

    (a) application under section 14B of the Football Spectators Act 1989 (banning orders made on a complaint) may be made, and

    (b) power conferred on a constable by section 21A or 21B of that Act (summary measures) may be exercised,

    except pursuant to an order made under subsection (4) below, and in any event after the end of five years.

    (3) Before making an order under subsection (4), the Secretary of State must lay a report about the working of this Act before each House of Parliament.

    (4) The Secretary of State may from time to time by order provide that such an application may be made, or such a power may be exercised, during any period prescribed by the order, being a period of not more than one year immediately following the end of the previous period prescribed by the order.''.'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 5, leave out subsection (2).

Mr. Grieve: I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley. I hope that our discussions today will be brief. On Second Reading, the Opposition expressed several serious anxieties about the Bill, which I hope will be alleviated in the debate. I hope, too, that there will be clarification of certain matters to inspire confidence in the proposal.

The Bill is short, so it is difficult to do much to it, but the Conservative Opposition have flagged up two areas in which we think the Bill can be improved. Amendment No. 1 would introduce a sunset clause of five years. At present, there is a requirement for regular renewal, which is not what our amendment proposes. That is unlike amendment No. 4, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which provides for a sunset period, for annual renewals within that period and for a report to be presented by the Secretary of State each time the Act is renewed. We are mindful that the Government are trying to achieve a period of long-term stability, but at the same time we are anxious that the measure should not become permanent; therefore, we feel that a sunset clause of five years would help.

I shall remind the Committee what causes us such concern. First, the proposal is a powerful administrative tool that has been handed to Government to restrain individuals in their daily activities. On section 14 of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, I am the first to accept that there are frequent means—for example, by obtaining injunctions in civil proceedings—by which individuals may be restrained from carrying out activities that might be unlawful. I appreciate that there may well be good grounds—it should be a proper course of action —to restrain someone through a complaints procedure from attending football matches be they at home or abroad where there is a proven track record that he has been involved in violence around such matches.

However, one has only to look at the available statistics—I have had a further chance to look at them since Second Reading—to be aware that there are grounds for concern about the respective use of sections 14 and 21 of the 2000 Act. We know from the information provided by the Minister that there were 30 notices under section 21B out of 44 orders on complaint. Thirty people were stopped at places of exit from this country under section 21B and 19 cases were confirmed by the courts, so half of the cases were not pursued. Most were adjourned and referred to a person's place of residence.

As the Minister is aware from my comments on Second Reading--they bear repetition--the anxiety concerns not the intention behind the Bill, but how in practice it interferes with people's individual rights and liberties. Let us focus for a moment on the cases that were adjourned in which there was reference to the person's place of residence. As far as I know--the Minister may be able to help the Committee--there is no evidence to show what happened to those cases, how long they took and whether they were dragged out over several days of hearing, which is what some of us feared when the 2000 Act was introduced. How many months has it taken for those cases to be disposed of? Has the process in most cases lasted one month, three months, six months or even longer?

During that period, people had their passports confiscated and were deprived of the ability to travel, so they were at a substantial disadvantage. The Committee needs to know the details of how the provision operates in practice before being satisfied that the Government's proposals in the Bill are good. In the meantime, if the Minister has any anxiety and cannot provide such detailed information, it must be a powerful reason why the Committee should consider accepting amendment No. 1, which would ensure that the matter is reconsidered in five years.

The Committee could go further and adopt the course of action proposed by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey in his amendment, which would introduce even tighter controls on the way in which the system would operate during that five-year period. I did not suggest that because I tried to be conciliatory to the Government and their intentions. However, I must stress the lack of information about how the system works in practice and I shall give other examples that I hope the Minister may be able to deal with.

What is the cost of the system? Do we have any idea of the cost of the court proceedings concerning those who receive banning orders under section 21? Have appeals been made to the Crown court and, if so, how many have been successful? That information would show how easy or difficult the magistrates courts were finding it to arrive at proper decisions. I do not want to reopen all the issues referred to on Second Reading, but I hope that by being reasonably encompassing we can shorten our proceedings this afternoon. The anxiety concerns the lack of detail.

Amendment No. 1 would deal with the problems identified on Second Reading by introducing a five-year sunset clause into the legislation. There is an alternative way of dealing with the matter, which is what amendments Nos. 2 and 3 seek to do. It is possible, for reasons to which I referred earlier, to separate the operation of sections 14 and 21 of the 2000 Act. I hope that the Committee will bear with me if I explain why.

On the basis of the information that is available to us at the moment--the Minister may be able to update me and I apologise if I do not have the latest figures--45 orders on complaint under section 14 were obtained by July this year compared with 67 under section 21B. I am not in a position to know—again, only the Minister can help us—how the procedure under section 14 is working in practice. I fully accept that all the issues that I flagged up in respect of section 21 must apply to section 14, but at least section 14 is a procedure that has not been started as an emergency. For that reason, it is unlikely that it will interfere with the liberty of the citizen in the same way as section 21.

Amendments Nos. 2 and 3 suggest that one way to approach the problem of our anxiety about this matter is to allow the Government to put section 14—but not section 21—on a permanent footing. That would at least have the merit of keeping under review the precise example that causes the greatest anxiety about civil liberties. Otherwise, we are in danger of continuing a procedure under section 21, the practical impact of which we have little information about.

I am sorry to say that the undoubted public order success of the Germany-England match—we are all very happy about that—has prompted the Government to leap to the conclusion that the legislation should be made permanent. The direction in which the legislation is taking matters is a good sign, but I do not yet share the confidence to make it permanent, given the absolute duty of the Committee and the House to maintain civil liberties.

The legislation is about massive interference in the civil liberties of individuals. We are doing a lot of that at the moment. In the next fortnight, we will look at civil liberties in the context of the Proceeds of Crime Bill. These are important matters and we should not slip into the habit of administrative convenience. On the whole, interfering with the liberties of individuals because it is administratively convenient to do so is not a practice that we in this country have adopted.

I hope that the Minister will give us a little more information about, and allow us to consider, the practical workings of the legislation. I hope, too, that the Committee will give serious thought to the amendments. In practical terms, amendment No. 1 is an alternative to amendments Nos. 2 and 3. I am not suggesting that we should accept them all; that would be nonsensical. However, rather than rubber-stamping the legislation for ever more—that is the reality that we confront—the Committee should instead give proper consideration to a sensible sunset clause of five years, which would allow for a review once a lot more statistical information has become available. Alternatively, if the Government are genuinely confident about the legislation, we should at least detach the section 21 procedure, which is the most potent interference with the liberty of individuals, while allowing the section 14 procedure to be put on a permanent statutory footing.


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