HC Deb 12 May 1980 vol 984 cc837-45
The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. George Younger)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the serious outbreak of violence that marred the Scottish Cup Final between Glasgow Rangers and Celtic at Hampden Park, Glasgow, on Saturday 10 May.

A crowd of about 70,300 attended the match, segregrated in the usual way, with Celtic supporters at one end of the ground and Rangers supporters at the other. During the game itself there were no major outbreaks of missile throwing or fighting on the terracings, and although 73 arrests were made inside and outside the stadium before and during the game, these mainly involved charges of breach of the peace and disorderly behaviour. The number of arrests at that stage was not unusual for such an occasion.

When the game ended, after extra time, a number of Celtic players ran towards the Celtic end of the ground and went on to the track to wave to their supporters. Supporters climbed over the protective perimeter fence to congratulate the players, and some hundreds of supporters ran on to the field. In turn, several hundreds of the Rangers supporters climbed over the fence and ran forward, until the two factions met on the field. Fighting broke out and a series of charges and counter-charges took place. During the invasion of the field many bottles, cans and other missiles were thrown.

In the light of experience gained in policing previous matches, about 400 officers were on duty within the ground during the game and over 100 more were deployed in the vicinity outside. As the game appeared to be ending without disorder, the police, as is normal practice, began to withdraw some officers in order to cope with the departing supporters outside. As the game ended, about 200 police remained in the ground. In response to the situation that developed, a number of those—including both mounted and foot officers—who were by then outside the ground were redeployed to assist those inside. By their prompt and vigorous action the police were success- ful in completely restoring order within 15 minutes from the start of the disturbance.

A total of 179 arrests were made directly related to the match, both inside and outside the stadium, and a number of those arrested were detained in custody. Twenty-nine people were treated by ambulancemen, but that included fainting cases. The exact number of those injured it not known. Four police officers, including one special constable, received slight injuries, but none was taken to hospital.

I am sure that the House will join me in deploring the disgraceful scenes of violence that took place, and in congratulating Strathclyde police on their firm and effective response. Had it not been for their prompt action, a much uglier situation might have developed.

This outbreak of football hooliganism at its worst underlines the need for legislative action to curb such behaviour. It is significant that after the match the terracings were littered with thousands of bottles and cans, indicating the amount of alcohol that had been consumed. In this connection, the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill at present before Parliament contains provisions designed to reduce and, if possible, eliminate the alcohol problem at matches of this kind. Moreover, by prohibiting the carrying into football grounds of bottles, cans and other containers, whether they hold alcohol or any other beverage, the Bill will prevent their later use as missiles or weapons. What happened on Saturday clearly indicates the need for these provisions.

In addition, it seems clear that the perimeter fence, which is intended to keep the crowd off the pitch, proved inadequate. I understand that the chief constable intends to discuss this aspect with the football authorities. Hampden Park is, of course, licensed under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, and I understand that Strathclyde regional council, which is responsible for licensing grounds in the area, proposes to examine the conditions attached to the licence and to consider whether these conditions require alteration. Inevitably, too, it will be necessary to consider whether stricter limitations should be placed on the numbers of spectators permitted to attend events of this kind, and I propose to consider this in consultation with the interested bodies. Plainly, we cannot permit such scenes to recur if football is to survive as a spectator sport. But the main responsibility rests with the football clubs and authorities themselves, and I have no doubt that they will be closely examining to what extent it was the actions of players at the end of the game that caused the disorder.

Mr. Millan

The House will be grateful to the Secretary of State for making a statement today. The scenes at the end of the match on Saturday were utterly appalling—worse than I have ever seen. If anything, they were rather understated in the Secretary of State's statement. He attributed the blame to one incident. I think that that is, perhaps, rather unfortunate, because I believe that what happened on Saturday was rather more complicated than the Secretary of State indicated in his statement.

I wish to ask a number of questions. First, it is obvious that the barriers were completely inadequate to prevent spectators entering the field. Can we be assured that something will be done quickly about that and, especially, that the matter will be dealt with in the design for the new Hampden Park football stadium? Secondly, are not some of the figures given today for police numbers rather different from those that appeared in reports over the weekend?

There has been much difficulty in understanding exactly what happened. Quite apart from police deployment, which is the responsibility of the chief constable, the total numbers are the responsibility of the football authorities, because they pay for them. I would be grateful if the Secretary of State would comment on that. Undoubtedly, there was a period on Saturday when the police were not able to handle the position because they were not there in sufficient numbers. I do not think that it was just a question of deployment.

Thirdly, we accept what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, and we hope that those powers will be implemented vigorously when it reaches the statute book. However, it is a little ironic that we should be attributing—in my view, perfectly rightly—so much of the trouble on Sat- urday to drink, when that game—like most of the other major football events in Scotland over the last year—was sponsored by one of the drinks interests. On Saturday, the game was sponsored by Younger's beer. I say that perfectly seriously. It is not much good our talking about the unfortunate influence of drink in these incidents when the whole of the football ground is plastered with advertisements for drink. The Scottish Football Association, the clubs and the supporters' associations must look at that question.

Will the Secretary of State confirm, as I hope is the case, that the Lord Advocate has given instructions—as the Lord Advocate in the previous Government did—that anyone charged with offences arising from Saturday's events should be prosecuted not in the district courts but in the sheriff courts? I hope that we can have an assurance about that.

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I entirely share his expression of horror at the scenes that took place. I agree with his description. As he will, I am sure, realise, the barriers have been there for some years, but were not a requirement for the licensing of the ground. In fact, I understand that they were erected to fulfil the conditions for a UEFA match. Therefore, they were constructed for that reason and were not part of the requirements governing the licensing. There are differing views about whether or not there should be barriers, and whether it is an advantage to have the crowd completely segregated, because it means that the police are less able to get into the terracing if trouble breaks out.

As the right hon. Gentleman said, it is the responsibility of the owners of the ground and the promoters of the match to make sure that there is an adequate police presence. They are required by their licence to provide an adequate police presence and to do it in consultation with the chief constable. In this case, that procedure was carried out. I can confirm that the police numbers that I gave today are correct and that earlier reports in some newspapers, which gave different numbers, were incorrect.

I note what the right hon. Gentleman said about the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill. I can assure him that that Bill's provisions, if and when they are enacted, will be fully implemented so far as I am able to ensure.

I agree that sponsorship is something that will have to be considered carefully by those promoting such matches as this. There is a contradiction in that regard, and I have no doubt that they will think carefully about it. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate to what the right hon. Gentleman said about prosecutions.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that another statement is to follow and that the debate on Private Members' motions can continue only until 7 o'clock. Threfore, I shall call four hon. Members from either side and we shall then move on.

Mr. McQuarrie

I am sure that the House will congratulate the chief constable of Strathclyde and his officers, particularly the mounted officers and the woman in that mounted section, who so gallantly went into the charge and cleared the field within 15 minutes. Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that the protective barriers, which were erected for the UEFA match, were satisfactory for Saturday's match, when for so many years there has been trouble between those two clubs at every major game in which they have taken part? When one looks at photographs of Wembley stadium and the type of barrier that is constructed there as a protection against rowdyism, does not one see—I am sure that my right hon. Friend agrees—that Scotland can do equally well for matches at our wonderful Hampden stadium, which has been put to shame by the dreadful exhibition by the supporters of both teams on Saturday?

Mr. Younger

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I am sure the whole House echoes what he said in congratulating the police who were on the spot for the courageous action that they took. It was a nasty situation, and they deserve great credit.

My hon. Friend is quite correct in stating that the barrier is one of the problems that will have to be considered carefully. However, it is by no means accepted that in all circumstances barriers are the best thing. Those barriers have been in use for two years, and this is the first time there has been any trouble regarding them.

Mr. Maxton

My constituents suffer worst from this drunken and unseemly violence, because Hampden Park is in my constituency. Does the Secretary of State agree that much of the violence is due to religious bigotry and that the clubs themselves set a bad example? Will he put the strongest pressure on the clubs to ensure that they carry out policies that do not continue that bigotry? Does not he also agree that Hampden stadium itself is in need of renovation, not only in terms of barriers but with regard to a total overhaul of seating accommodation, which would lessen the violence? Will he now make a statement to the effect that the Government will provide sufficient money to carry out that redevelopment as quickly as possible?

Mr. Younger

I sympathise very much with the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman about the feelings of his constituents. I am sure that every hon. Member thoroughly agrees with him. I also agree strongly with what he said about bigotry playing its part. I shall do all that I can to encourage all concerned to remove any causes of such bigotry. However, that and the effect of alcohol cannot be ignored.

Mr. Ancram

I welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement that the question of the barrier will be looked at. Will that be done as a matter of urgency? I am sure that my right hon. Friend will appreciate the concern of most people in Scotland at how easy it was for those animal hooligans to get on to the field. Can he assure the House that steps will be taken to prevent that at the forthcoming Scotland-England game?

Mr. Younger

I agree with my hon. Friend that this matter will have to be looked into quickly. We shall have to take into account the question of discouraging or preventing people getting on to the field and to bear in mind the safety of those who remain on the terraces. This matter will have to be looked at with both those aspects in mind.

Mr. Freud

While the Secretary of State rightly and predictably praises the police, blames the demon drink and condemns the inadequacy of the barriers, does not he accept that it is wrong that the football clubs and the Scottish Football Association should make any money while the innocent taxpayer pays for the ambulances and the hospital back-up services? Is it not time to consider withholding substantial sums of money against the sort of eventuality that occurred at Hampden on Saturday?

Mr. Younger

I sympathise with the hon. Gentleman's feelings. I think that there are difficult and practical problems involved in charging for all those services, and it is difficult to say where the line should be drawn. Of course, it is already the case that the cost of the police is borne by the promoters of the matches, and we can certainly look at extending that principle.

Mr. Bill Walker

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the activities of the hooligans on Saturday should now give himself and the Government cause to rethink the funding of the new Hampden? As Glasgow district council has reneged on its commitment, would not it be wise to see that in future all major games are played in rotation round the Scottish cities rather than remaining in one place where we know violence occurs.

Mr. Younger

I am not sure whether my hon. Friend is making an offer that the next match should be held in Perth. Nevertheless, I realise that he makes a serious point. I do not think that the tragic events that took place on Saturday have a direct relevance to the decision about the future of the rebuilding of Hampden Park. As the House knows, I am already discussing with Hampden Park Limited whether and on what terms I should confirm the provisional offer of grant that has already been made. I also regret the fact that Glasgow district council withdrew its contribution, and I very much hope that it will be persuaded to reinstate it.

Mr. Gordon Wilson

Does the Secretary of State agree that the scenes that we witnessed on television on Saturday were not only deplorable but frightening, in terms of the way in which people came to blows and the damage and harm that could be done? Will he comment on the fact that the problems arising the case of Rangers and Celtic football matches have existed for a number of years? Is not it surprising that nothing was done to ensure that the barriers were adequate for incidents that have occurred time after time? Can the right hon. Gentleman say when his inquiries will be completed, and whether he will publish the outcome?

Mr. Younger

I share the hon. Gentleman's sentiments about the frightening nature of what we saw on television. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Minister who is responsible for industry and education was there in person, and gave me a personal report of what he saw. I do not think that it is quite fair to say that nothing has been done over many years. A great deal of work has been done, notably by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Queen's Park (Mr. McElhone) and his committee, which looked into this matter. We are proceeding to carry out many of the recommendations that that committee put forward. Therefore, it is not true to say that nothing has been done.

In addition, we are trying to marry the legitimate desires of the many thousands of people who enjoy a harmless sport in a free country with the safety of those who may get caught up when something goes badly wrong. It is not easy to carry on such activities and to maintain absolute safety in a free country without cutting into that freedom. However, we shall try to reach the best possible solution.

Mr. Henderson

Although I accept what my right hon. Friend said about the disgraceful scenes at the end of the match, is it not just as appalling that it is considered normal and reasonable for 73 arrests to be made during and before the match? Does he accept that although the passing of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill might help, law and order depend ultimately on the people themselves?

Mr. Younger

I agree that when I received the first report on the events that took place I was struck most forcibly by the fact that there had been 73 arrests during a perfectly normal match, and before those deplorable events took place. That should be taken very seriously. I entirely agree that if ordinary individuals are to enjoy football, people will have to be better behaved. We must help them to do that.

Mr. Dalyell

In terms of the last sentence of his statement, on what precise ground does the Secretary of State suggest that the players were to blame?

Mr. Younger

It is not my view that that was the case. I have not yet had a report.

Mr. Dalyell

Why put it in a statement?

Mr. Younger

As I said, it is not my view that that took place. Until I have had a full report, I cannot say whether the players were to blame.

Mr. Dalyell

It is in the statement.

Mr. Younger

The police view is quite clear, namely, that had the Celtic players not acted as they did an invasion of the pitch might not have occurred. I am only recording the view of the police. The police may be right or wrong, but that appears to be their view.

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