To me it is important that the Government pursue their objectives in a reasonable way. There are two aspects that cause me and my constituents great concern.

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1486

One is the attitude that we have to the local population. We have heard the words about localism in the Chamber, but I am more interested in the deeds. I can say that, right across the constituency, my constituents do not believe that the Government care one jot for what they think and what they say.

Today the largest public inquiry into wind farms opened in Welshpool in my constituency. It is likely to take 12 months. The small rural local council has had to set aside £2.8 million just to defend the decisions that it took. This will have a huge effect on local services, but nobody cares. When the Welsh Government were asked whether there was any way they could help the council, they said, “You knew what was going to happen and you turned down the application.” I thought that was utterly disgraceful. They were going to suspend their entire planning responsibilities to avoid the costs of defending their decisions.

Another aspect is the public inquiry itself. My constituents are deeply concerned that it is dealing just with the wind farms and not with the transmission line to them. It is like dealing with houses without any roads to them. Some £50,000 was spent trying to change the position, and people believe that DECC had some involvement with the inspector when the council’s decision was rejected. I do not know whether that is true, but I wrote to the Minister several weeks ago and have not yet had a reply to reassure my constituents that that did not take place.

A further issue that causes me shock and disgust is how National Grid has behaved and is behaving. The project that I am talking about is a very big project in my constituency; it involves about 500 wind turbines and 100 miles of cable, 50 km of which are on 150-foot high steel pillars. Not surprisingly, landowners have not been keen to co-operate with National Grid and to allow it on their land, so National Grid sent in the heavies. In truth, it has sent in thugs.

I have an e-mail here that I only wish I could read out, because it is so shocking. It comes from Councillor Gwilym Thomas, a recently elected county councillor for an area affected. I can just refer to one or two points that he makes. He is a man of unquestionable integrity and he begins by saying that he was visited by two gentleman who approached the door with envelopes, and said, “Mr Thomas, I have these for you.” They looked threatening and he asked them for some ID. They said they did not have it and would get it from their van and come back. Some time later they came back but he was on the telephone and his daughter answered the door. She clearly saw a threatening individual. The daughter and Councillor Thomas’s wife retreated to the kitchen. He went to speak to the man and they finished up nose to nose with the man shouting at him, “Take these, Mr Thomas,” and he threw them out and walked away. Mr. Thomas walked after him, and as he walked away the man shouted, “Goodbye, Mr Thomas,” 10 times, in a shockingly intimidating manner.

It gets worse. Later that day Councillor Thomas called at a property that he owns. There were two vans blocking the gate so he tooted the horn to go in, and he found that it was the same people employed by National Grid to enforce its policy. During the conversation, they used the f-word at least three times, an example of gross profanity. Councillor Thomas rang National Grid to

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1487

tell it, but it seemed not to care. It talked about them being process servers, not bailiffs. This is shocking behaviour.

Another councillor contacted me—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I have been listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, which is clearly heartfelt, and I have given him much more latitude because of the seriousness of the matter that he raises. But this is the Third Reading of the Energy Bill, and what he says must relate to that, or he might want to find another way to raise what are very important matters. He may continue with his points, but he should either make them relevant to today’s debate or perhaps stake a claim for a future debate.

Glyn Davies: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for making the allowance that you have. I thought it was important to put that kind of behaviour in the public domain.

What the Government are doing in the Bill is hugely important to the country’s future, but we will not have anyone’s support unless we take forward what we are doing with reason and working in co-operation with the local people. That is what we need to do, so I thought it right to put in the public domain what is happening in our name. This is an important Bill that I am pleased to support, but please let us take forward what we approve today in a reasonable manner that the people of Britain will be able to support.

6.52 pm

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): The Bill fails to meet four essential tests. First, will this Bill help to reduce energy costs for consumers? At the moment, energy costs for consumers are projected to rise at the rate of about 8% above inflation for the foreseeable future, and the Bill does nothing to address that. In fact, it makes it worse for consumers.

Secondly, will the Bill make UK plc more competitive in international markets? The resounding answer to that question is no, it will not. Indeed, we have already driven a lot of our manufacturing capacity overseas and the Government recently had to include in the Finance Bill a sticking plaster to try to prevent the potteries from closing down completely. That demonstrates that firms that are not perhaps involved in the potteries will suffer as a result of more lack of competitiveness being generated.

Thirdly, will the Bill prevent our countryside and coastal heritage from being despoiled by wind turbines, such as those proposed for Christchurch bay? It will definitely not do that. Indeed, because it is encouraging the subsidy junkies to come to this country and feed off our taxpayers’ money, it will make life even worse.

Finally, does the Bill address any of the perverse consequences that have flowed from the Climate Change Act 2008? The answer is that it does not. Five of us voted against the Third Reading of that legislation, and a lot more colleagues wish that they had also been able to register their opposition to it in the Division Lobby. That is why I hope that tonight, although there is this grotesque cross-party consensus about a lot of this legislation, it will be possible for individual Members to put on record their own views as to whether the Bill should go on to the statute book.

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1488

6.54 pm

Andrew Percy: I was not intending to speak, but I have been moved to do so by the speech made by the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas), who attempted to present those of us who oppose the decarbonisation target as in some way anti-renewable. I voted against the target not because I am anti-renewable but because I am concerned about the bills paid by those who sent me to this place and the impact of onshore wind developments in my constituency.

In the Humber, we hope to benefit from significant investment by Siemens and others in offshore wind. We all stand behind and support that, if for no other reason than it is a job creation scheme. I hope we will see British employers such as Tata—I got things slightly wrong earlier in calling it a British company—benefiting from that. We want that development and those jobs to come to the Humber. However, the attempt to paint those of us who have opposed the decarbonisation target as anti-renewable is not fair at all.

Many of my constituents work in the coal and gas sectors. A large number work in coal and gas generation and some even work in coal mining. I think about their jobs and rights when we debate our energy market. It is not yet clear how the decarbonisation target would be hit or how carbon capture and storage technology could contribute to it. In my side of the constituency, at Drax, a lot of money is going into trying to develop clean coal technology. We want that to be a success. Perhaps in a couple of years’ time, when that is scalable and deliverable, I will be in the Lobby with the hon. Lady.

Caroline Lucas rose—

Andrew Percy: I give way to the hon. Lady briefly.

Caroline Lucas: The hon. Gentleman has not been in the Chamber in the past two days, but over and again those on this side of the House who have been proposing and supporting a decarbonisation target have been able to demonstrate that it will precisely lead to lower fuel bills for consumers. It is precisely gas that is leading to higher bills. Will he not base his statements on the facts?

Andrew Percy: I have followed this debate closely both inside and outside the Chamber, and I am afraid that it has not been demonstrated at all that the target could be set up cheaply. If that were so, it would already be being done. I am concerned about the impact that such a target would have not only on bills, but on England and our countryside. I represent a constituency where people are very concerned about onshore wind turbines. The hon. Lady represents a more urban area, so perhaps she does not have to face what I have to.

Caroline Lucas rose—

Luciana Berger rose—

Andrew Percy: No, I will not give way. There are very concerned people who feel very disempowered with respect to the planning process because of the march of onshore wind. That has to be taken into account. I am not prepared to vote for something that would say to my constituents, “Whatever your view is, it doesn’t matter. We have this target and we have to deliver on it.”

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1489

I think about the public inquiry at Saxby Wold, at which I spoke only a few weeks ago. I got a clap from local residents; it is not often that Members of Parliament get clapped by their constituents. I spoke for my constituents who said clearly that they did not want an ever-increasing march of onshore wind turbines. I also think about the residents in the towns of Winterton and Broughton and elsewhere. Just this weekend, I was informing them about the proposed development in the Ancholme valley of yet more wind turbines—an area that has already hit its 2020 targets.

So please do not present those of us who oppose the target as anti-renewable. We are pro-renewable, but we want a balance and a sensible energy policy that gives the people most affected by the changes a real voice in the process. That is why I will support the Bill. Perhaps in a year, two years or three years, we will be able to support a decarbonisation target. However, the CCS technology is not yet there and I am not prepared to say to people in my constituency who work in the industries I mentioned that they should be put out of work for a vague target that somebody has plucked out of thin air.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The House divided:

Ayes 396, Noes 8.

Division No. 20]


6.58 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Adams, Nigel

Afriyie, Adam

Aldous, Peter

Allen, Mr Graham

Amess, Mr David

Andrew, Stuart

Arbuthnot, rh Mr James

Ashworth, Jonathan

Austin, Ian

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Norman

Baldry, Sir Tony

Baldwin, Harriett

Barclay, Stephen

Barker, rh Gregory

Baron, Mr John

Barron, rh Mr Kevin

Barwell, Gavin

Bebb, Guto

Begg, Dame Anne

Beith, rh Sir Alan

Bellingham, Mr Henry

Benn, rh Hilary

Berger, Luciana

Berry, Jake

Betts, Mr Clive

Bingham, Andrew

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackwood, Nicola

Blears, rh Hazel

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Blunt, Mr Crispin

Boles, Nick

Bradley, Karen

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brady, Mr Graham

Brake, rh Tom

Bray, Angie

Brazier, Mr Julian

Brennan, Kevin

Brine, Steve

Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette

Brown, Lyn

Brown, Mr Russell

Browne, Mr Jeremy

Bruce, Fiona

Bryant, Chris

Buckland, Mr Robert

Burden, Richard

Burley, Mr Aidan

Burns, Conor

Burrowes, Mr David

Burt, Lorely

Byles, Dan

Cairns, Alun

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Gregory

Carmichael, rh Mr Alistair

Carmichael, Neil

Clark, rh Greg

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey

Clwyd, rh Ann

Coffey, Dr Thérèse

Collins, Damian

Colvile, Oliver

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Cox, Mr Geoffrey

Creagh, Mary

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

Davey, rh Mr Edward

David, Wayne

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Geraint

Davies, Glyn

de Bois, Nick

Dinenage, Caroline

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Donaldson, rh Mr Jeffrey M.

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Dorrell, rh Mr Stephen

Dorries, Nadine

Doughty, Stephen

Doyle-Price, Jackie

Dromey, Jack

Duddridge, James

Duncan Smith, rh Mr Iain

Durkan, Mark

Elliott, Julie

Ellis, Michael

Ellison, Jane

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Elphicke, Charlie

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Evans, Graham

Evans, Jonathan

Evennett, Mr David

Fabricant, Michael

Fallon, rh Michael

Farron, Tim

Field, Mark

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flint, rh Caroline

Foster, rh Mr Don

Francois, rh Mr Mark

Freer, Mike

Fullbrook, Lorraine

Fuller, Richard

Gardiner, Barry

Garnier, Sir Edward

Garnier, Mark

Gauke, Mr David

George, Andrew

Gibb, Mr Nick

Gilbert, Stephen

Glen, John

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goldsmith, Zac

Goodwill, Mr Robert

Grant, Mrs Helen

Gray, Mr James

Grayling, rh Chris

Greatrex, Tom

Green, rh Damian

Greening, rh Justine

Greenwood, Lilian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffith, Nia

Griffiths, Andrew

Halfon, Robert

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Mr David

Hamilton, Fabian

Hammond, Stephen

Hancock, Matthew

Hands, Greg

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harper, Mr Mark

Harrington, Richard

Harris, Rebecca

Harris, Mr Tom

Hart, Simon

Harvey, Sir Nick

Haselhurst, rh Sir Alan

Hayes, rh Mr John

Heald, Oliver

Healey, rh John

Hemming, John

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Herbert, rh Nick

Hermon, Lady

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hinds, Damian

Hoban, Mr Mark

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hopkins, Kris

Horwood, Martin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Howell, John

Hughes, rh Simon

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

James, Margot

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, rh Alan

Johnson, Joseph

Jones, Andrew

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Mr Marcus

Jones, Susan Elan

Kawczynski, Daniel

Kelly, Chris

Khan, rh Sadiq

Kirby, Simon

Knight, rh Mr Greg

Kwarteng, Kwasi

Lamb, Norman

Lancaster, Mark

Lansley, rh Mr Andrew

Latham, Pauline

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leadsom, Andrea

Lee, Jessica

Lee, Dr Phillip

Leech, Mr John

Lefroy, Jeremy

Leslie, Charlotte

Leslie, Chris

Lewis, Brandon

Lewis, Mr Ivan

Lewis, Dr Julian

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lidington, rh Mr David

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Lopresti, Jack

Lord, Jonathan

Loughton, Tim

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Ian

Luff, Peter

Lumley, Karen

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Main, Mrs Anne

Malhotra, Seema

Maynard, Paul

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McCartney, Karl

McCrea, Dr William

McDonald, Andy

McGovern, Alison

McGovern, Jim

McIntosh, Miss Anne

McKechin, Ann

McKinnell, Catherine

McLoughlin, rh Mr Patrick

McPartland, Stephen

McVey, Esther

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Metcalfe, Stephen

Mills, Nigel

Moore, rh Michael

Mordaunt, Penny

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Anne Marie

Morris, David

Morris, Grahame M.


Morris, James

Mosley, Stephen

Mowat, David

Mulholland, Greg

Mundell, rh David

Munn, Meg

Munt, Tessa

Murray, Ian

Murray, Sheryll

Murrison, Dr Andrew

Neill, Robert

Newmark, Mr Brooks

Newton, Sarah

Nokes, Caroline

O'Brien, Mr Stephen

Offord, Dr Matthew

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Onwurah, Chi

Opperman, Guy

Owen, Albert

Paice, rh Sir James

Parish, Neil

Patel, Priti

Paterson, rh Mr Owen

Pawsey, Mark

Penning, Mike

Percy, Andrew

Perry, Claire

Phillips, Stephen

Poulter, Dr Daniel

Pound, Stephen

Prisk, Mr Mark

Pritchard, Mark

Pugh, John

Raab, Mr Dominic

Randall, rh Mr John

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Rees-Mogg, Jacob

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Jonathan

Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rogerson, Dan

Rosindell, Andrew

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Russell, Sir Bob

Rutley, David

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sawford, Andy

Scott, Mr Lee

Seabeck, Alison

Selous, Andrew

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Alok

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shelbrooke, Alec

Shepherd, Sir Richard

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Simpson, David

Skidmore, Chris

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Henry

Smith, Julian

Smith, Owen

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Nicholas

Soubry, Anna

Spellar, rh Mr John

Spelman, rh Mrs Caroline

Spencer, Mr Mark

Stanley, rh Sir John

Stephenson, Andrew

Stevenson, John

Stewart, Bob

Stewart, Iain

Streeter, Mr Gary

Stride, Mel

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stuart, Mr Graham

Stunell, rh Andrew

Sturdy, Julian

Swales, Ian

Swayne, rh Mr Desmond

Swire, rh Mr Hugo

Syms, Mr Robert

Tami, Mark

Teather, Sarah

Thornberry, Emily

Thornton, Mike

Timms, rh Stephen

Timpson, Mr Edward

Tomlinson, Justin

Tredinnick, David

Truss, Elizabeth

Turner, Mr Andrew

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Uppal, Paul

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Villiers, rh Mrs Theresa

Walker, Mr Robin

Wallace, Mr Ben

Walley, Joan

Ward, Mr David

Watson, Mr Tom

Weatherley, Mike

Webb, Steve

Weir, Mr Mike

Wharton, James

Wheeler, Heather

White, Chris

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Whittaker, Craig

Whittingdale, Mr John

Wiggin, Bill

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williams, Stephen

Williamson, Gavin

Willott, Jenny

Wilson, Phil

Wilson, Mr Rob

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Woodcock, John

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Wright, Jeremy

Wright, Simon

Yeo, Mr Tim

Young, rh Sir George

Zahawi, Nadhim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Anne Milton


Mark Hunter


Binley, Mr Brian

Bone, Mr Peter

Davies, Philip

Flynn, Paul

Nuttall, Mr David

Reckless, Mark

Smith, rh Mr Andrew

Wilson, Sammy

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr Christopher Chope


Mr Philip Hollobone

Question accordingly agreed to.

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1490

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1491

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1492

Bill read the Third time and passed.

Business without Debate

Delegated Legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

Financial Services and Markets

That the draft Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (Contractual Scheme) Regulations 2013, which were laid before this House on 26 March, in the previous Session of Parliament, be approved.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

European Union Documents

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 119(11)),

Identification of Cattle and Labelling of Beef

That this House takes note of European Union Documents No. 13701/11, a draft Directive amending Council Directive 64/432/EEC as regards computer databases which are part of the surveillance networks in the Member States, and No. 8784/12, an amended draft Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No. 1760/2000 as regards electronic identification of bovine animals and deleting the provisions of voluntary beef labelling; and supports the Government’s view that the deletion of the voluntary beef labelling provisions is a sensible reduction in regulatory burdens, but that the Commission’s proposal needs to include a seven year transition period for the introduction of electronic identification as an official means of identification for cattle in order to minimise cost increases and bring in the necessary changes smoothly without risk to current traceability.—(Mr Syms.)

Question agreed to.

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1493

Football Referees

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Mr Syms.)

7.14 pm

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): The times being what they are, I feel I should declare an interest at the very start: I have always wanted to be popular. Some would say that being a Conservative Member of Parliament is not exactly the best way of going about that. If we add the fact that I am an active and qualified football referee, one could think that I have chosen what we might call a “challenging path” to that popularity. I took my referees’ course at the age of 12 and qualified shortly afterwards, which I believe means I have just finished my 33rd season as the man in the middle. I have been a member of the Referees Association for all of that time. I should also declare a financial interest. For each game I officiate I receive a fee. I have tried to register it, but the relevant authorities got bored after a while and told me to stop wasting their time.

I have to admit that I love the game. Like anyone who volunteers, coaches or officiates at any sport, I am passionate about the sport I practise every week. One has to be passionate to go out there in most weathers doing one of the least popular jobs in the country week in, week out. I have officiated at all types of games in the UK and abroad at amateur and semi-professional level. I have been very lucky not to have personally experienced what too many referees have experienced: I have not been assaulted while officiating at a game of football.

Every ref I know looks forward to his or her next fixture. While we get paid a small amount, we do not referee for the match fee. We receive good in-service training from the Football Association and the Referees Association, and we go out to do the best job we possibly can in every game. Occasionally—I know this will be hard for Members to comprehend—match officials do make the odd mistake. The vast majority of times, however, we get the decision right. Alas, on some occasions—Members may have seen some well-publicised examples—players do not like the decisions we make. Referees have to deal with that by using common sense.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): Does the hon. Gentleman feel that the introduction of goal-line technology and a fourth official would reduce some of the friction between footballers and referees on the pitch?

Chris Heaton-Harris: I am sure that that would help at the highest level of the game, but at my level I am lucky to have two club linesmen, let alone a fourth official. I hear where the hon. Gentleman is coming from, but I do not think they would necessarily help in this particular situation. There is no goal-line technology in Northamptonshire Combination football league games as of yet.

We deal with challenging situations by using common sense, people management skills and the odd yellow or red card. In most cases, while the teams and their supporters might not like some decisions, everyone just gets on with the game. Sometimes they do not, however. Recorded assaults on referees are thankfully few and far between. The number of physical contacts against officials

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1494

has fallen quite dramatically by 21% since 2010-11, from 618 cases to 528, but that is still 10 physical assaults on football referees in England and Wales each week.

Stephen McPartland (Stevenage) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that the number of recorded assaults on referees has decreased because it is often difficult for referees to have those assaults taken seriously by the authorities?

Chris Heaton-Harris: Yes, that is absolutely the case, and it is something I intend to come to later, so I thank my hon. Friend for his point.

In fact, over the past year, the number of cautions has fallen: all cautions fell 10%; dissent cautions fell 13%; dismissals fell 13%; and in general all misconduct on the football pitch fell 9%. Some put this gradual improvement down to the Football Association’s respect agenda, and I would tend to agree, but whatever the reason, it is obviously to be welcomed. I still find it astonishing, however, that in the last year for which full records are available 528 referees—more than 10 a week—were assaulted during a match.

Obviously, in these cases, the Referees Association and the FA step in, the first helping the assaulted and the county FA offering some punishment post-disciplinary hearing. There were concerns that county FAs were being too lenient in the punishments handed out, so several changes were made to the appeals process. Now anyone, not just the person subject to the violation, can appeal a decision and ask the FA to review the case. For the police to take action, referees must report incidents to the police themselves. The FA recommends that they do this but cannot intervene or compel an official to do so. If criminal action is taken in a case of assault or physical contact on a referee, the player in question is automatically suspended pending the outcome of the case.

The purpose of this debate is singular: to ask the Minister for his help. Referees up and down the country are becoming more and more concerned that neither the police nor the Crown Prosecution Service is following through with the investigation of assaults, believing that footballing sanctions—bans for a certain period—are enough of a punishment. It would be fantastic, therefore, if he could help. The FA could do with improved feedback from the courts.

Guy Opperman (Hexham) (Con): I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate, which one might think a game of two halves: the soft cop in the early part and the rougher stuff coming later. Does he agree that the FA could improve conviction and prosecution rates by launching private prosecutions where other parties do not wish to get involved? That would, I suggest, still be possible.

Chris Heaton-Harris: That is true, actually. The Referees Association offers insurance to referees, so if someone joins it—not all referees do, but most do—it will help and guide them down that route. If, though, there is a physical assault on a football pitch, it should first be a matter for the police, but if they choose not to act, perhaps there could be this second way of doing it.

To return to the subject on which I would like the Minister’s help, the FA would appreciate automatic

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1495

feedback from the courts on football cases to ensure that any criminal cases involving footballers are also subject to football disciplinary hearings. A simple communication would suffice to ensure that if a banned player tried to play for a different football club, they would not be allowed to. Furthermore, assaulting a referee should automatically mean a formal interview by the police. It has been suggested that sometimes the police only log details and do not formally charge a player with assault, saying that it is a footballing matter. Any player who assaults a referee should be formally interviewed by the police as a matter of course, and witness statements could be taken to prepare for appropriate action. A simple interview after an assault would also act as a strong deterrent.

In the more serious cases, we need to urge the CPS to treat this type of assault seriously and to ensure that football offences do not receive more lenient sentences than the same crimes committed off the football pitch.

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this important debate. He has mentioned serious offences, suggesting that some are not so serious. What would he say is the difference?

Chris Heaton-Harris: Less serious offences would include one that the hon. Gentleman might have seen Paul Gascoigne commit in a football game not so long ago—taking the yellow card out of the referee’s hands—or a gentle shove. If the hon. Gentleman will allow me, I will come to the details of more serious offences, but there is a gradual scale, as there is in all matters to do with assault.

Essentially, referees would like the police to be more willing to charge those who assault match officials, rather than leaving the issue to be dealt with in-house by local county football associations. Police action is a far greater deterrent and would ensure that referees felt more supported, thus helping to retain the number of referees we need in our game.

I said earlier that I had been lucky. I have not been physically assaulted while officiating, although I once had to go to the police because of what I perceived to be a very real threat made against me. However, I had a horrible experience once when I gave a penalty and the manager of the team, who thought he was a bit like Alex Ferguson, did not like my decision. Unlike Alex Ferguson, he decided to charge on to the pitch. Fortunately, one of his own players rugby-tackled him, inches away from me on my blind side before he got to me. As I did not really know that he was coming at me, who knows what could have happened? That happened on what I chose as my last ever game of Sunday morning football.

Others have not been so lucky. Anyone who goes to a referees’ society meeting and talks to those present will hear some horrific tales. In 2011, a Coventry referee was assaulted at a match that took place on Sowe common on a Sunday morning. He was taken to hospital by ambulance and needed stitches inside his mouth and other things. Two police cars attended with four officers. Two of the officers went and spoke to the assailant, but decided not to arrest him and walked off the pitch saying that the football authorities would deal with the incident.

Last year in Manchester, an individual walked out of court with a suspended jail sentence and community

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1496

service for a cowardly assault on a referee. The referee had sent the player off for aggressive behaviour and swearing during a Manchester amateur Sunday football league match. As he recorded the red card in his notebook, the player ran towards him, jumped with both feet off the ground and kicked him in the face—a karate kick of some kind. The referee needed a number of stitches around his eye and was left scarred for life. Doctors told him that he was lucky not to have been blinded. The player was eventually charged and pleaded guilty at a Manchester Crown court to the charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. The judge did not give him a custodial sentence—he said he had escaped “by a whisker”—but suspended a 10-month jail sentence for two years. The player was also ordered to carry out 100 hours’ unpaid work and pay the referee £750 compensation. However, if that had happened on a Saturday night in any town or city across the country, the result would have been very different.

Referees across the country are concerned that assaults of this nature are not always taken seriously by the authorities. We are seriously worried about that, because we know of recent examples elsewhere, such as the case of Richard Nieuwenhuizen in the Netherlands, who was killed in December 2012 as he officiated at a game of football in Holland, or, just last month, that of Ricardo Portillo in the United States. In both cases, the assault of an official resulted in their death. I am not saying to the Minister that he must act now or this could happen here, but I would like assurances from him that, after this debate, he will send the appropriate message, as strongly as he can, that officials of all sports across the country can pack their kits for this weekend, comforted in the knowledge not just that they are appreciated, but that there is an extra deterrent that will stop those who use violence to show their disappointment at a decision that the ref has just made.

7.29 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice (Jeremy Wright): Before I begin, I would like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Chris Heaton-Harris) on securing the debate and on raising the important issue of how we deal with violence in sporting events. As he says, it is an issue that we need to take seriously, and we will. Such violence can be damaging not just for the individuals directly concerned but for all those who enjoy sport. They should be able to continue to do so in safety and in an atmosphere where the rules of justice and fair play are accepted and upheld. The respect that we show for the rules of a game such as football very much reflects our respect for others, for society and for the rule of law.

As my hon. Friend has made clear, football is one sport that has seen particular examples of violence on and off the pitch. Such violence sets a damaging example to young and possibly impressionable fans. We know of cases in which fans have been tempted to emulate the behaviour they see on the pitch. We must therefore make absolutely sure that we have the means available to prevent such violence where possible, and to punish it effectively if it does occur.

Looking at the cases that my hon. Friend has detailed, I can entirely share his concerns. I understand the frustrations felt by all the victims who do not feel that justice has been done. It seems that we have three fronts

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1497

on which we should be tackling this issue. First, each sport’s governing body—in the case of football, the individual clubs—needs to deal with the incident to ensure that future events are not disrupted. They can and should discipline players and fans when enthusiasm spills over into violence and aggression. It is not clear from the cases that we have heard about whether clubs or the Football Association have always used the full extent of their powers, but my hon. Friend will appreciate that that would be a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport.

Secondly, the criminal justice system has a role to play. My hon. Friend has rightly asked me and my Department to concentrate on the issue of effective sentencing, particularly for violence against referees. From that perspective, we would not want to see offences, sentences or procedures that applied only to football referees. The law must be seen to apply equally and consistently to everyone, and we would therefore need at least to deal with violence at all sporting events. We already have adequate offences, sentences and procedures in place that apply across the board, and ample guidance to help to ensure that they are applied consistently. With that in mind, let me first explain the offences available.

There is a range of offences that the police and the Crown Prosecution Service can use in the case of a violent incident of any kind, including when the violence occurs in a sporting context. These range from common assault through to actual bodily harm and to grievous bodily harm, and ultimately to manslaughter and murder. The penalties available range from a maximum of six months’ imprisonment for common assault to a maximum of life for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The police and the CPS have a full spectrum of offences that can be charged, and severe maximum penalties are available for those convicted.

Within those sentencing powers, it is for the courts to decide what the penalty should be in individual cases. The courts have the full facts of the case before them, and they can make an informed judgment about the overall seriousness of the incident. Sentencers are trained and experienced in arriving at appropriate penalties, and it would be wrong for any of us, particularly Ministers, to try to substitute our judgment for that of the court. I will not therefore comment on the individual cases that my hon. Friend has raised; instead, I will concentrate on how the courts arrive at their decisions.

The courts have guidance in the form of guidelines issued by the independent Sentencing Council. Courts are obliged to follow the guidelines or to explain why, exceptionally, they are departing from them. The guidelines are therefore rather stronger than the term “guidelines”

4 Jun 2013 : Column 1498

might suggest. There are guidelines covering the general seriousness of an offence, and specific guidelines on offences of assault, and they can be found on the Sentencing Council’s website. As with offences, I do not think that it would be helpful to have specific guidelines that applied only to football referees, or even to sport in general. They must apply across the board.

The guidelines help to determine the seriousness of the offence by reference to the harm that the offence has caused, and to the culpability of the offender. Those factors can mitigate or aggravate the potential sentence. For example, in the case of assault, factors given in the guidelines as increasing the seriousness include the location and timing of the offence, and the community impact. General guidelines on the seriousness of any offence also include aggravating factors such as whether the victim is serving the public. That might arguably include functions such as refereeing a football match, as my hon. Friend does on a regular basis.

People often ask, not just in this context, why the maximum possible penalties for offences are not imposed more often. Sentences must be proportionate to the offending behaviour, and the guidelines help to ensure that the courts sentence in a proportionate and consistent way. The maximum penalty is set to deal with the worst possible case for each offence. The maximum is, therefore, rightly rarely used. Violence and threats towards match officials may be regarded as an aggravating factor, but should not be looked at in isolation as meriting the most serious possible penalty. It needs to be seen alongside all the other aggravating and mitigating factors in a case.

The third strand that emerges from the cases we have heard about this evening is how the police react in cases of violence against officials. That, I have to say, is partly a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, but it is largely, as my hon. Friend will understand, an operational matter for the police. I understand entirely what he says about the need to send the clearest possible message to the police about taking these matters seriously. We need to work with officers to ensure that they have guidance and training about cases involving match officials, so that those cases are treated in a way that properly reflects the harm such cases can cause.

I am afraid to say to my hon. Friend that there is no magic solution to the problem that he has rightly highlighted. I think he recognises that. I accept that we need to work together to raise awareness and to ensure that the system we have works better. We need to ensure that we signal that violence against match officials is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Question put and agreed to.

7.36 pm

House adjourned.