Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords--

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, my noble friend will recall--

Lord Bach: My Lords, we have 20 minutes for questions. I believe that both my noble friends will be able to put their questions if we take them in order. I invite my noble friend Lord Faulkner to ask the first one.

5.29 p.m.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, my noble friend will recall that last Thursday I asked a question about security arrangements at Euro 2000. It gives me no satisfaction to say that my very worst fears about what would happen at the weekend have proved right. I welcome the tone of the Statement, in particular the comments of the Minister and those of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, about racism and xenophobia. Those matters, linked with the free availability of drink, have played a crucial part in the events of the weekend. To ensure that they can be addressed is a task that faces all of us. I urge my noble friend not to rush into ill-considered legislation. Can we spend a little while getting it right so that we strengthen the legislative framework and have a proper set of laws in place that allows us to hold up our heads again in the world of football?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we are right to be careful in framing legislation. The Dangerous Dogs Act is a testimony to rushed legislation. It taught many Members of another place and your Lordships' House the importance of framing the correct legislation. That is critical.

It is urgent that we consider carefully additional powers. Those powers must be subjected to the utmost scrutiny. It is right that we should revisit the whole issue of the possible removal of passports from, and

19 Jun 2000 : Column 47

the obligation to attend a police station on, those whom we suspect of being involved in hooliganism and football-related offences.

However, I make this point. That will not solve all our problems. That must be understood. Of the 400 deported, so far only one of 15 had any connection with football-related offences. That tells us that the problem is more widespread. For that reason, we need to attack the social conditions and the frame of mind which give expression to that yob culture. Football clubs, football associations, government, police and all agencies which have a relationship with football have an important part to play. We have to say that the situation is unacceptable. People abroad should not have to put up with British yobs destroying their livelihoods, cities and town centres, despoiling the way they live and upsetting pleasant environments.

We all want to enjoy a game of football. It is a beautiful game--but, ultimately, a game.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, first, can the Minister advise me? I am ignorant; perhaps I should know. For how long do domestic and international banning orders last? Is it for as long as England or--I hesitate to say it--Scotland is still in the competition? Once England is out of the event, can the passports be given back? I am somewhat confused on the issue.

Secondly, perhaps the Minister can explain this to me. Presumably the persons who have been removed from Belgium in varying states of sobriety have passports. Does the marking of those passports by the Belgian authorities--I believe it has been explained elsewhere that it is administrative deportation--trigger off a domestic or international banning order? From what the Minister said now (and I saw him on the news at one o'clock), and from what his right honourable friend said, a large proportion of those people have no record as regards football misbehaviour.

From what the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others have said, much of the situation is due to alcohol. Misbehaviour in any way in a football stadium--I know from personal experience--can cause a ban on entry to the stadium. I have been warned somewhat carefully for suggesting that the referee was visually challenged, and that a linesman needed a white stick. We do not want the kind of conduct that the Minister must have seen in Charleroi and I saw when Scotland came to England and beat the world champions in 1967. Is not such behaviour fuelled entirely by alcohol drunk well away from the football stadia?

Every four years UEFA organises a festival of football which should be fun. Yet it is ruined by a large proportion of fans who go not so much to the football stadium as (in the words of the football media) to soak up the atmosphere. But that is not what they are soaking up; it is large amounts of alcohol.

19 Jun 2000 : Column 48

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is difficult to respond to a series of comments which perhaps form a question. However, I seek to respond to some of those points.

Currently, there are 10-year banning orders to cover international events; and three-year banning orders for domestic events. So three- and ten-year banning orders are available to the courts. It is for the courts to impose those. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary suggests today that perhaps we should consider some way in which those two banning orders can be brought together. We shall have to look at the guidance given to the courts so that they make full use of those banning order powers.

I know that the noble Lord is a football fan, plays a key part in a Scottish team--I confess that I have forgotten the team--and feels passionately about football. We must seek to work closely with the clubs. Most clubs no longer have widespread access to alcohol in their grounds. I think that that has made a contribution to reducing the level of aggravation, violence, obscenity and unpleasantness which can sometimes be associated with football.

Some two-thirds of those picked up for football-related offences are not arrested in or around the ground but in city and town centres. In part, that is a reflection of the success of better policing and stewarding, and the impact of CCTV in football grounds. As I have made plain, we must readdress those issues which develop that yob culture which becomes closely associated with people fuelled by alcohol. In Charleroi I saw many groups of young English supporters, and those from the German side, drinking extensively. It undoubtedly contributed to the problems experienced by the police in Charleroi on Friday and Saturday.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, as one who was vociferous in considering the libertarian aspects of the Football (Offences and Disorder) Bill, I should like to ask the Minister a specific question. However, before doing so, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord a short and easy question. Does he wish to make some comment--there has been none in the Chamber today--on the conduct of the 39,600 British fans, compared with the 400 on whom we are concentrating, who, according to the British team, provided better support than any other group of fans in Belgium and Holland? They deserve some remembrance on this dismal afternoon.

The Football (Offences and Disorder) Act already gives almost unprecedented powers to magistrates to make an international banning order not upon the criminal test of beyond reasonable doubt but on the civil test. Noble Lords may be interested to know what that power is. In Clause 1(2), the Act states:

    "Subject to subsection (3) ... it shall be the duty of the court to make an international football banning order in relation to the accused if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that making the order would help to prevent violence".

I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is as low a hurdle as our courts could be asked to jump with regard to an extremely serious penalty.

19 Jun 2000 : Column 49

The Minister referred in his Statement to the prospect of bringing forward new legislation to provide an even lower hurdle which would enable banning orders to be made where there is good evidence of hooliganism--short, one must assume, of any conviction. Is that the way forward, especially in the light of the comments he sensibly made about the social matrix from which all this stems, to which my noble friend Lord McNally referred?

Finally, perhaps it is only when these matters arrive in our own back yard that we notice them. Few noble Lords in this House will realise that over 30 per cent of all men under the age of 30 have convictions for offences of violence or probity. Perhaps we should pay more regard to the reality of which this is one small expression.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I listened with interest to the noble Lord's recitation of statistics. However, if, as he says, 30 per cent of men under 30 have some kind of conviction, that should be of no great pleasure to us. It may be a reality, but it is not one which we should willingly or readily accept. It is important that we should be setting standards and arguing the case. Why do we tolerate such behaviour? What is it about our culture that tolerates it? I do not believe that it is acceptable.

The noble Lord was right to observe that the vast majority of those who attend football matches, week in and week out, here or abroad, are interested in football. They are decent, honest, hard-working folk. We are talking about their freedom, their liberty, their right to enjoy those games in peace and to be confident of their own safety in doing so. That is being jeopardised by the mindless thugs who have so disgraced us in the past few days.

Whose rights should we be protecting? I take the view that we should be protecting the rights and freedoms of that majority and that that view will be widely shared not only in this House, but also outside in the wider world. We should take careful account of that fact.

The noble Lord reflected on the voluble support at Charleroi, a stadium which holds 30,000. There were 5,000 German supporters at one end of it and 5,000 English supporters at the other. Around the ground, outside those two ends, a mingling of German and English fans were getting on admirably well and enjoying the game. Why is it, though, that the game produces such polarisation and violence? These are the issues to which we should be turning our attention.

Why is it that so much of the chanting and much of the support falls to an abusive level, to what I would call "low humour"? I found some of it upsetting. Although it was not obscene, it embarrassed me and I should be surprised if that embarrassment were not more widely felt. Even those in the stadium who are vociferous in support can embarrass our country with their slogans and chanting.

19 Jun 2000 : Column 50

I enjoy the game of football; I like the pride, passion and patriotism involved. However, I do not believe that we should let the game and its supporters denigrate our culture in the way in which they have.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page