Football (Disorder) (Amendment) Bill

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Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): I welcome you to the Chair, Mr. Illsley. Like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), I feel that there is little that one can do to amend a Bill that is so short that it may well be possible to deal with all the points arising in one sitting. Before I proceed, I should apologise for the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Bob Russell) who, as we speak, is participating in a sitting of the Select Committee on Home Affairs.

Amendment No. 4 has been tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, but I am equally sympathetic to the amendments to which the hon. Member for Beaconsfield has just spoken. A reasonable range of options has been put to test the Government.

Like the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, I shall not take up the Committee's time by repeating points made on Second Reading. However, in Committee we are meant to be able to get detailed answers to detailed questions; something that has been notably lacking. I shall make a point of principle and stress where my party comes from, which, in this respect, is not a hugely different place from my Conservative colleagues and some in the Labour party.

The Bill proposes not only that people who have been convicted of criminal offences should have their liberties restricted—that is a perfectly normally procedure that we all accept—but that people who have had either no relevant conviction or no conviction at all should have their liberties restricted. We are not discussing liberties that are incidental or peripheral, but two liberties that have always been regarded as important. The first, that one should not be detained without due cause and that there should be a limit on one's detention, is dealt with in traditional English law through habeas corpus, subsequently through statute law and, more recently, through the European convention on human rights.

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The second, that there should be free movement within the European Union, is a right guaranteed by both tradition and European Community law. One is given a passport, unless there is a specific state security reason for not having it. Whatever its colour—I have just given up my blue one that lasted longer than most, but I now have a red one like most other people—inside there is still a request from the Foreign Secretary that one should be entitled to travel freely, which is something that we have recently confirmed in law.

The Government obviously have in their sights the mischief caused by people who travel to cause trouble. However, restricting the right to travel, let alone the right to travel abroad, is an important matter. Restricting one's right to have one's passport and to travel freely is a very important matter. We should do that only when we are certain that it is justified. That is where my party comes from, and we regard taking away the right to travel abroad by removing passports from those without conviction as being unjustified in principle.

The procedure is also wrong in practice. Had there been lots of evidence that, since the introduction of the existing legislation, many people had been found to have no criminal convictions but the courts had upheld banning orders, it would be persuasive. However, there has been no such evidence. On Second Reading, I asked the Minister how many people who have had bans have never had convictions for violence-related offences.

I have always made it clear that I do not consider the only relevant offences to be football-related. When the former hon. Member for Taunton, Jackie Ballard, and I worked on the first Bill, we argued that any violence-related offence should be relevant. Many of the offences that the Minister cited on Second Reading were violence-related. We have seen the courts restrict the liberties of those who have a history of violence that, to use the word of the hon. Member for Beaconsfield, is ``proven''. I am happy with that. I am not happy when there is no proven record of violence. We cannot move to a criminal justice system that acts on the basis of no offence, as opposed to acting on the basis of some offence.

There are differences between this and the case for an injunction. In most cases—indeed, in nearly every case—injunctions have been granted where there has been some record of an offence, or at least an arrest and charge for domestic violence. There has almost always been an offence that has persuaded the courts that it is justified to grant a personal protection injunction to restrain a person's liberty.

As far as I am aware, injunctions never mean that one cannot visit a place, but that one is detained and that the freedom to travel abroad is taken away. I stand to be corrected, but I believe that in 99 per cent. of cases where injunctions are issued, either detentions or restrictions on freedom to travel have been produced as a consequence.

Mr. Betts: The hon. Gentleman referred to the need for certainty and drew a distinction between someone who had a previous criminal offence for violence and someone who did not. However, there is no certainty in such situations, and the purpose of the legislation is to deal with that uncertainty. The fact that someone has had a previous offence, does not make it certain that they will commit an offence when they go abroad. The legislation attempts to take into account all the circumstances and available evidence and reach the best conclusion about whether an individual is a threat and whether he should lose his rights to travel abroad. That balance must be struck. There is no certainty in the legislation at all.

Simon Hughes: We are trying to obtain certainty. Legislation should be as certain as possible. People should know where they stand.

Mr. Betts: As possible.

Simon Hughes: Yes, as far as it is possible for Parliament to make legislation certain. Our job is to ensure that there are no grey areas or uncertainties.

If someone commits an offence that results in a criminal conviction, which has not been removed from his record under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, that conviction remains with the individual. Any prospective activity will be hampered by it. That consequence is accepted by the individual, until it disappears from his record. There is no argument about that. An individual who has a propensity for violence—it may be for attacking police officers, domestic violence, or beating people up outside a pub after too much drink—knows that any conviction will remain with him.

We are trying to stop people assaulting each other and behaving violently; we are not trying to stop them from having a laugh or clowning around. We want to stop violent criminal offences being carried out against people. That is a common agenda. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Betts) knows that as well as I do.

We must proceed by stages. We must do only what is proved to be necessary. From what I have seen, the courts have not, thus far, thought it necessary or justified to go the further step provided for under this Bill of moving from banning people who have a criminal record to banning those who do not have one. The court must decide whether an individual is guilty. I am not into this new game of administrative sanctions for everything and acting on lower burdens of proof. Our criminal justice system decides whether individuals, including everyone here, are guilty or innocent. We should stand by that.

The case to extend the order, if the Government want to make it, should be based on evidence. The hon. Member for Beaconsfield and I share the view that we are low on evidence that could be available. That is the argument for not creating permanent law now. I will not argue about whether it is better to have a sunset clause for five years in total with no intervening period, or whether there should be a sunset clause of five years with an intervening period when the legislation is renewed. It is normal for legislation that is exceptional to be renewed annually—we do it on a regular basis. We are about to have a debate on emergency powers, and my party will table amendments to say that emergency powers are only for the length of the emergency and should not be placed permanently on the statute book. We would expect the legislation to include a sunset clause. It important that Parliament should have the opportunity of reviewing whether it is justified on a regular basis.

Although I would prefer a five-year sunset provision to nothing, I differ from the hon. Member for Beaconsfield on that point because five years was the Government's concessionary period at the beginning. The then Minister of State said when the House considered Lords amendments that he would be happy with, and had offered, a five-year total period for the life of the Act, with intervening renewal orders. The House of Lords did not accept that, and insisted on a two-year maximum period with a one-year renewal halfway through. I am seeking to buy what the Minister offered last year as a reasonable compromise position—a five-year longstop with annual renewal in the meantime. It is important that we do not keep the law unless it is justified by the evidence.

I understand the practicalities, and I have thought through the consequences of renewing the legislation at a certain time. England, thank goodness, has just qualified for the World cup next May and June. It seems sensible that that event should be covered by the Bill before we have to have a renewal. The current law runs out on 28 August 2002, so we are covered until the other side of the World cup. We are now legislating for the period beyond that, although we have all argued that it is bizarre to do that so early. The logical period to consider is one that takes us, at most, beyond the next big international competition. That will be the European championship, two years after the World cup in Korea and Japan. By that time, evidence from the World cup will be available—although I guess that fewer people will be able to afford to go to Japan and Korea than went to Ostend, Ghent and Brussels, so the problem will not be so great. However, the issues that we are discussing will also arise at normal friendlies and other regular club games. I am absolutely signed up to the idea that the reputation of the English game must be recovered. It has been tarnished by the unacceptable behaviour of people who claim to be supporters but are not, which is why we want periodic review of the legislation.

I make my next point slightly differently from the way in which the hon. Member for Beaconsfield made his. It concerns existing statistics. It is the reason why I propose to remove the element of acting on complaint only without conviction. In the cases that have arisen so far there was already a conviction, and the legislation has worked in a way that is worse than we anticipated.

I did not know, and did not expect, that we would be given a table about the total number of cases. It is in paragraph 16 of the latest report, which came out after the Germany-England game, from the football section of the National Criminal Intelligence Service. It shows that, of the 80 people detained under section 21, 13 were released. Taking them out of the frame, we are left with 67 people who were issued with the section 21B notice, under which people are prevented from travelling, their passport is taken away and the process is started whereby they have to turn up in court within 24 hours for the court to decide whether a banning order should be imposed.

A banning order was imposed on 36 of those 67 people. A banning order was refused on nine, and they were released. Added to the 13 above, that makes 22 people who were released. For another 22, court proceedings were adjourned. There lies the mischief. If one adds the 22 who were let off and free to travel to the further 22 on whom a banning order was not imposed, one gets 44. That is more than half of the total, 80.

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