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Session 2001- 02
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Delegated Legislation Committee Debates


Sixth Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation

Tuesday 10 July 2001

[Mr. Jonathan Sayeed in the Chair]

Draft Football (Disorder) (Duration of Powers) Order 2001

4.30 pm

The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham): I beg to move,

    That the Committee has considered the draft Football (Disorder) (Duration of Powers) Order 2001.

I welcome you, Mr. Sayeed, to the Chair of what is, for me anyway, the first Committee of the new Parliament, although I suspect not for you.

The order extends for one year from 28 August 2001 the powers conferred on the courts and the police under section 14B on banning orders made on complaint and sections 21A and 21B on summary measures of the Football Spectators Act 1989. The early evidence strongly suggests that the measures are making a significant contribution to tackling the long-standing menace of English football disorder. That is why a Bill removing the sunset clause contained in the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 will be introduced shortly. The order is required to cover the period during the passage of that Bill through Parliament. There are a number of high-risk matches on the horizon, and the provisions of the 2000 Act need to be in place to help minimise the risk of serious disorder in Munich when Germany play England on 1 September and, of course, during the Euro 2004 qualifying matches, for which the exact dates have not yet been set. There are also bound to be a number of potentially difficult overseas club matches to be navigated in the months ahead.

In accordance with section 5(5) of the Football (Disorder) Act 2000, a report on the working of the Act between 28 August 2000 and 11 June 2001 was laid before Parliament on 20 June. The report, which is a prerequisite of the introduction of the order, briefly outlines the background and circumstances that led to the 2000 Act, along with its aims and key provisions. It concludes with an assessment of the impact of the Act during the period concerned. I do not propose to repeat the contents of the report, but I would like to summarise quickly the measures we are seeking to extend and why we think it necessary to keep them on the statute book for a further 12 months.

Section 14B empowers magistrates to impose banning orders on individuals who have not previously been convicted of a football-related offence, but in relation to whom there is evidence of involvement in violence or disorder. The complaint process requires the police to satisfy the courts that the person before them had caused or contributed to violence and disorder, and that there are reasonable grounds to believe that making an order would help to prevent violence or disorder in connection with football matches.

Sections 21A and 21B provide a different route to seeking an order on complaint during the control period—the five days before an overseas match involving the England or Wales national team or an English or Welsh club side. Section 21A empowers the police to detain an individual for up to four hours—six hours with the authorisation of an inspector—if a police officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that that person has caused or contributed to any violence or disorder in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, and believes that imposing a banning order on him would help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with any regulated football matches.

The purpose of the detention under section 21A is to enable the police to decide whether to issue a section 21B notice. A section 21B notice requires the individual to appear before a magistrates court within 24 hours, and in the meantime he is prevented from leaving England and Wales. The magistrates court will then treat the notice as an application for a section 14B banning order on complaint.

The need for these powers is demonstrated by the catalogue of shameful events involving England followers overseas that inflicted damage on our national reputation. The most recent and best-documented example was provided during Euro 2000. Notwithstanding extensive precautions, English fans were still involved in significant disturbances in both Charleroi and Brussels. Those preparations were successful in that only one of the 965 England followers arrested during the tournament was subject to a banning order imposed following conviction for a football-related offence. However, subsequent police checks revealed that 40 per cent. of those arrested had convictions for offences of violence or public disorder not necessarily connected with football. That provided compelling evidence for empowering the courts to impose banning orders—section 14B orders—in circumstances other than on conviction for a football-related offence.

Mr. Nick Hawkins (Surrey Heath): The Minister mentioned the disorder that took place in Charleroi. I am conscious of the fact that he has taken up his portfolio only recently. Has he discussed with his officials the concern expressed to his predecessor Ministers about the one or two entirely innocent fans who were inadvertently caught up in the trouble in Charleroi? His predecessors conceded at the Dispatch Box that many of the England supporters who were arrested were completely innocent.

Mr. Denham: I have not discussed that aspect of events in the past four weeks. I have begun a series of meetings looking ahead to the actions that need to be taken to try to minimise the possibility of football violence at the matches that I mentioned. I will look into the issues raised by the hon. Gentleman, but we all accept the key point, which is that a significant proportion of those arrested, although not subject to a banning order, had convictions for violence. The violence and public disorder for which they were convicted was not necessarily connected with football, and we base the case for extending the order on that.

Mr. Tony Banks (West Ham): Innocent people are caught up in problems created by a minority of supporters who follow the national team. The purpose of introducing the order is to protect the innocent as well as capturing the guilty. So long as people abroad think that all English fans are hooligans, innocent people will be affected. To deal with that, we must deal with those who create the problems.

Mr. Denham: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I hope that the Committee will back the order, given the positive reaction of European Governments to the measures taken last year, which has done much to instil greater confidence in those provisions. Other countries are considering measures to deal with their own problems that are similar to those pioneered here.

The need for the powers under sections 21A and 21B was also based on the experience of Euro 2000, which confirmed that the police would not always have sufficient time to pursue the banning order process before the control period for a regulated match or tournament had commenced. For example, although the local police may be aware that an individual has caused or contributed to violence or disorder, they will not necessarily know that he has an interest in football and intends to follow the national team overseas to a fixture. We now believe that there is compelling evidence for maintaining sections 14B, 21A and 21B on the statute book for a further 12 months.

In the Government's view, the provisions of the order are compatible with the European convention on human rights. The need for adequate safeguards was recognised when the Football (Disorder) Act 2000 was drafted. The measures had to be proportionate, and had to strike a balance between national and international interests and individual civil liberties. That, of course, includes the civil liberties of host populations and the well behaved English supporters who are intimidated by the aggression and xenophobia of some of their fellow supporters.

The impact report confirms that the police have a highly targeted, intelligence-led approach to the use of the new powers. During the passage of the Act, the then Home Secretary and his ministerial colleagues stressed that the powers that we are now seeking to extend would not be used arbitrarily. They emphasised the fact that personal appearance would not provide grounds for a section 21A detention, and that an isolated expulsion unsubstantiated by accompanying evidence of misbehaviour would not provide grounds for seeking a section 14B order.

The measures have been warmly welcomed by Governments and police forces across Europe. Those Governments are considering the view of European experts on football hooliganism, who believe that there is a compelling need for an instrument at European level to encourage member states to pass comparable legislation. We shall hear more about that during the Belgian presidency.

UEFA has been impressed by the good behaviour of English fans since the measures came into force. The threat to exclude English football from European competition was real and it remains in place, so it is important that good behaviour is maintained, as has been stressed. We should all be pleased that, despite high-risk England matches in Paris, Turin and Athens and the vast number of fans who have traversed Europe in support of our successful pub sides, there has been no significant disorder since Euro 2000. Since Euro 2000, the number of troublemakers prevented from travelling overseas has increased significantly—from about 100 to more than 450. The legislative gaps exposed by Euro 2000 have been closed.

I do not want to suggest that the problem of English football violence overseas has been solved. We cannot be absolutely certain of that; a number of high-risk matches lie ahead. We were clear when measures were proposed that leglislation alone could not eliminate the risk of football disorder. In many respects the disorder is a symptom of wider social problems. That is why the working group on football disorder under Lord Bassam was asked to identify what could be done to tackle the attitudes and behaviour that prompt the disorder, and we are committed to implementing its 55 recommendations. It is also why we welcome the launch of Englandfans, the Football Association's new England members club.

I recognise that there is scope to increase the number of orders on complaint, and that the police and courts are still exploring how best to use the complaint procedure. The number of orders imposed is just one measure of the Act's effectiveness, and by no means the most important. The key aim was, and must remain, to minimise the risk of further disorder. Early indicators strongly suggest that the measures that we seek to maintain have made an important contribution in that respect.


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