HC Deb 22 February 1989 vol 147 cc984-7
5. Mrs. Mahon

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on recent meetings held by the Minister for Sport, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moynihan) with the chairmen of the Football League clubs.

7. Mr. John Carlisle

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what discussions he has had with the football authorities on the appointments to the Football Membership Authority.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

My right hon. Friend and I had a useful and constructive meeting with the chairmen of many of the league clubs about the Football Spectators Bill on 17 January and I met them again on 26 January. I met the president of the Football League and chairmen of the Football Association on 10 February to discuss aspects of the Bill and the wish of the football authorities to form the Football Membership Authority.

Mrs. Mahon

In view of the overwhelming opposition to the scheme and the decision in another place on Monday, will the Minister tell the Prime Minister that it is a non-tarter and that many league clubs are already in serious financial difficulties? Will he make a name for himself by standing up to the Prime Minister?

Mr. Moynihan

On the first point, the answer is no. On the second point, there is no good reason to believe that the scheme will have an adverse financial impact on clubs, even the smallest. A number of companies have already offered to set up and run the scheme at no cost to the clubs or the supporters. If the football authorities and clubs take a positive approach to marketing the scheme, financing it will not be a problem and the scheme can produce an income stream to football.

Mr. John Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend recall the words of Mr. Ted Croker, then secretary of the Football Association, when he asked my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister last summer to remove her tanks from his lawn? Is it not extraordinary that Opposition Members, the football authorities and a few misguided Conservative peers now seek to frustrate legislation which will remove hooliganism in and around football for ever?

Mr. Moynihan

Yes, and I firmly believe—as I am sure all my hon. Friends do—that Britain, the home of football, must set an example to the football-playing world.

Mr. Pendry

When the Minister met the football authorities, did they help him to unravel a problem, of his own making, for thousands of Northern Irish citizens who have Irish passports and who support Manchester United or Celtic Football Club? They will have to show their passports when they go to Old Trafford, but not when they go to Celtic Park; they will have to show their passports when Manchester United plays Celtic in a friendly, but not when Celtic plays Manchester United in a friendly, and they will have to show their passports when England plays Eire but not when Scotland plays Eire even though Eire is managed by an Englishman. If that problem was unravelled at that meeting, will the Minister now unravel it for the rest of us?

Mr. Moynihan

I will certainly do that. The hon. Gentleman is talking nonsense. If anybody wishes to see two league teams playing against each other, he will either have to be a member of the national membership scheme or a guest of the club. In those circumstances, there is no need for the use of passports.

Mr. David Evans

Does my hon. Friend agree that the amendment passed in the other place to the Football Spectators Bill is nonsense and unworkable? Does he also agree that if Liverpool were in the scheme and Tranmere were not, a Liverpool fan who was banned from his own ground and from watching his country abroad would be able to go to Tranmere and cause mayhem?

Mr. Moynihan

My hon. Friend has raised two important points. The Government will give careful consideration to the impact of the amendment. On phasing, the Government have made it clear on many occasions that the position that my hon. Friend has just outlined is accurate. Phasing would require Charlton, a first division club which shares a ground with Crystal Palace, a second division club, to install and dismantle the technology at Selhurst Park every week, according to which team was playing at home. That would be nonsense.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Why is the Minister so grudging in his acknowledgment of the steps taken by Football League clubs to combat hooliganism in the past three or four years? If he thinks that those steps are insufficient and his own proposals are self-evidently correct, will he allow a free vote when the Bill come back, in a much emasculated form, from the other place?

Mr. Moynihan

On the evidence of the last point, I am convinced that if it were not for the Whipping of the Labour Benches, more Labour Members would support the Government on this important issue. I have made it clear on many occasions that the Government welcome the moves that the football authorities have taken, not least in building on the package of measures announced in February 1987. We saw last season that that was simply not enough and that we needed to come forward with additional measures to tackle a problem that has tarnished our image abroad and which continues to have a major detrimental effect through hooliganism being associated with the sport in this country.

Mr. Latham

If we must proceed with the scheme, may we at least have an assurance that the members of the Football Membership Authority, to which Question No. 7 refers, will be selected from people who attend football matches in places other than the directors' boxes?

Mr. Moynihan

I agree with my hon. Friend and I was grateful to the representatives of the FA and the League whom I met at my last meeting, who said that they wished to be approved as the Football Membership Authority. The Government keenly wish to see that and I am glad that the football authorities do too.

Mr. Denis Howell

Was it with the Minister's authority that, following the Government's defeat in another place on Monday, the No. 10 propaganda department yesterday called the press to a briefing to the effect that unless football ignores the will of Parliament as expressed in the Lords, sanctions will be taken against it, including refusing to allow the football authorities to operate the football membership scheme? Is not that contemptible blackmail? Furthermore, is it not a serious contempt of Parliament and a possible breach of privilege? What explanation can the Minister provide for that scandalous behaviour?

Mr. Moynihan

The only time that I would have used the word "contempt" yesterday was with reference to the contemptible nonsense that the right hon. Gentleman spoke on Radio 4 when he was defeated by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn, Hatfield (Mr. Evans). The right hon. Gentleman's account of the press briefing from No. 10 is absolute nonsense—[Interruption.] We have made it clear that we shall consider carefully the effect of the amendment passed in the Lords and make a decision on that, and we shall, no doubt, announce it shortly—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. Members should come into other Question Times which are always held in silence. I cannot think what has gone wrong today.

Mr. Riddick

Has my hon. Friend seen the letter from the president of the Football League, Mr. Dunnett, to the Football League clubs? Is he aware that the letter is full of distortions and half-truths and, in some cases, downright lies? The letter states: Football supporters will be the only people in the country who have to carry identity cards. But everybody in this place has to carry identity cards. Does my hon. Friend think that Mr. Dunnett is deliberately misleading people, is simply in ignorance of the facts or is putting into practice the habit of misleading people that he no doubt learnt here as a Labour Member?

Mr. Moynihan

I regret that many of the statements made in that letter were misleading. I understand that a number have already been taken up, not least by my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn, Hatfield. I am certain that on another occasion I shall be able to respond in full to that letter, although it was not addressed to me.

Mr. Speaker

May we now proceed in good order?

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