§ Order for Second Reading read.9.34 am
§ Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
In many ways, I move Second Reading with a heavy heart. It gives me no pleasure to have to say that, for far too long, a small minority of mindless, moronic football hooligans have besmirched the reputation of football in this country and dragged the game into the gutter by their anti-social behaviour. All law-abiding citizens and football fans were appalled and disgusted by the inane and violent behaviour of a small minority of thugs and hooligans during the world cup last summer in France, and by the resulting violence in towns and cities in England—800 miles away—when we were knocked out of the cup. The damage that those idiots do to our international reputation, and the misery that they cause, is unforgivable and needs to be dealt with firmly.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is additional poignancy in that he moves the Second Reading of his Bill today, the day after the 10th anniversary of the tragedy at Heysel?
§ Mr. Fabricant
May I just point out for the record that, in error, I said Heysel? I meant Hillsborough.
§ Mr. Burns
All too often over the past 30 years, our national game has been ruined and our reputation destroyed by these mindless morons. More worryingly, the game has attracted other forms of criminality, such as counterfeiting and drug-related activities, which have added to the problems. It is only fair to point out that the vast majority of football fans are decent, law-abiding citizens, who simply want to go to a match for a peaceful afternoon or evening of family entertainment and to support their favourite club.
Unfortunately, a small, dedicated minority have been determined for far too long to ruin that by their loutish and illegal behaviour. All too often, football matches both here in the UK and abroad have been ruined by the disgraceful behaviour of a minority at the expense of the majority. Our reputation over the years is totally unenviable and nothing to be proud of.
Legislation introduced by the previous Government in the early 1990s and late 1980s—and, since 1997, by this Government—has greatly reduced football hooliganism inside domestic grounds. I pay tribute to both Governments, and I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) in the Chamber today. I pay tribute to the tremendous work that he did with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and
471 Hythe (Mr. Howard) in seeking to enhance and strengthen the law to bring these loutish hooligans to book.
In a bipartisan spirit, I congratulate the Government on embracing the ethos of the policies of my right hon. Friends when they came to power. Clearly, combating the problem of football hooliganism is not a partisan, party political issue, but something that unites the vast majority in this House who seek to tackle it.
I pay tribute to the football clubs themselves, for the way in which they have worked with the police to tackle the overriding problem. In the past six years, arrests inside grounds at league matches have declined by 37 per cent. and arrests outside grounds have fallen by 17 per cent.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to attend the Arsenal-Coventry match at Highbury. I spent the whole day with the police, the National Criminal Intelligence Service and club officials, watching how they monitored a major match. I was deeply impressed by their work, and by the way in which they worked together. It was a smooth, turn-key operation, and the depth of intelligence and the minutiae of detail in the planning were first rate.
I do not want to sound complacent but, ironically, there is something of a problem of success with the current legislation. There remain isolated incidents in domestic football stadiums, but the problem is now by and large focused outside the grounds, often some distance away, as the situation arising from our world cup defeat last year demonstrated. Incidents often happen hours before or after a match and can involve those who do not attend matches, but latch on to the sport like leeches to instigate or commit criminal acts.
§ Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)
What my hon. Friend says tends to confirm my view, but does he accept that there may be a danger that, in presenting the Bill as a football-related measure, in the context of what he said about problems moving away from football grounds and—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)
Order. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be making a speech. Perhaps he could catch my eye later.
§ Mr. Burns
I think that I understood the gist of what my right hon. Friend was saying, although he can correct me if I am wrong. There are clearly far too many incidents way beyond the football ground that are football related. I will give one classic example. When England was knocked out of the world cup last summer in France, there was rioting, vandalism and disorder in towns throughout this country as a direct result. Those were clearly football-related offences. That is why it is important to have legislation of this nature, which will enable us to bring such offences within the ambit of the law relating to football.
Worryingly, the police have shown that greatly increased safety at Premiership and league grounds has pushed the problem down the scale to smaller grounds, previously renowned for their friendliness and lack of problems. As an article in The Times last February said, on their way to the final of the 1998 FA vase at Wembley, the followers of Tow Law Town, aptly known as the 472 Misfits, left a trail of devastation on the road to Wembley, where they wrecked as many public houses as they could. Last August, 30 followers of Doncaster Rovers in the Vauxhall conference invaded the pitch at Dover, hit the goalkeeper in the face and ran amok at a cricket match.
Wisbech Town has become notorious for racial abuse. For example, there was the obscenity last season of Wisbech Town fans throwing bananas on to the pitch at the black player, Barry Hayles, at a Bristol Rovers FA cup tie. I am sure that all hon. Members will be utterly appalled by such mindless, disgusting behaviour. It should stop.
On the international scene, there are growing problems because the legislation is limited in how it can apply to football hooligans. With the number of matches being played overseas at both club and international level increasing, the problem is becoming ever greater. Sadly, I am convinced that regular and increasing problems overseas involving British football fans will hamper our prospects of hosting international sporting events. That is extremely sad, because we would be proud to host such events and run them well and safely, without the disgraceful behaviour that is now all too often associated with our national game.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
My hon. Friend may be inadvertently giving the House the impression that football hooliganism is on the rise. I have just seen the statistics from the National Criminal Intelligence Service, which show a continuing and substantial drop in football hooliganism over the past five years. I do not want to take any more credit for being responsible for some of the measures, along with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), but the fact that the statistics show a steady drop should be put on the record.
§ Mr. Burns
I am sorry if I inadvertently gave a false impression. The problem has not gone away. The number of incidents has dropped in recent years by 37 per cent. inside stadiums, but by only 17 per cent. outside stadiums. I do not want to give the impression that the problem is escalating out of control, but it would not be right simply to say that, because the number of arrests is going down, the problem is being eliminated.
The focus of the problem has shifted, as the examples concerning smaller clubs and the world cup show, but we cannot be complacent about what happens inside football stadiums at Premiership and league matches, because there is always the propensity for problems to arise, although improved security and police activities have brought down the number of arrests.
§ Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)
I am a bit confused about what the hon. Gentleman said about events last summer. He said that events in the world cup in France triggered bad behaviour in England, but do not the police have powers to deal with that?
§ Mr. Burns
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Such powers exist under public order legislation, but the Bill is designed to strengthen the powers and the penalties 473 specifically for football-related offences, which we hope will create a greater incentive for people to think twice before engaging in mindless behaviour.
§ Mr. Burns
I assure my right hon. Friend that I will address those concerns. Perhaps I can leave him with one bon mot to reflect on until I get to that part of my speech. Civil liberties are clearly important, but let us concentrate just a little more on the civil liberties of the vast majority of decent, law-abiding citizens rather than those of a minority.
I strongly believe that more must be done to block loopholes in the legislation and to strengthen the powers of the police and the courts to deal with offenders. I am proud to promote the Bill, because I believe that the powers that it contains will do a lot to combat and alleviate the on-going problem.
My Bill is another measure in what has become a step-by-step approach by both the previous and the present Government to doing everything possible to minimise the problems of football-related crime that are now all too prevalent in this country.
The Bill is divided into three parts. Clauses 1 to 5 are about international football banning orders. Clauses 6 to 8 are about domestic football banning orders and clauses 9 to 12 deal with indecent or racist chanting, ticket touting, and finally, financial provisions and so on. I shall deal with each section in turn.
The Bill would strengthen and tighten existing powers in legislation already in operation, passed both by the Conservative Government and by the current Administration. Clause 1 deals with international banning orders. It gives the court a duty, where someone has been convicted of a football-related offence, to make an international football banning order if it is satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that that would help to prevent violence or disorder at, or in connection with, a designated overseas match.
Of course, the individual concerned would have the right to appear in court to argue why the court should not do that, and would also have a right of appeal if the court decided to go ahead and impose the order.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am glad that a right of appeal is being put in, but my hon. Friend will know as well as I do about the long waiting lists for people who have to go to court, whether for criminal or civil cases. Surely, if a banning order were issued, the football match would have taken place before the appeal was heard.
§ Mr. Burns
We all share a concern that access to the courts and the way in which the courts deal with people should be speeded up. Successive Governments have sought to do that. However, I do not share my hon. Friend's worry, because orders will be issued only after someone has been convicted, and then they may last for several years. Even if an individual could still travel abroad and one match was missed, the order, once in place, would apply to all other matches.
474 Equally important is the fact that, if an order is not made, reasons must be given in open court why a banning order is not being issued. That represents an important step forward, as it would enable people to understand why the court had not taken a course of action available to it in law.
Clause 3 gives the courts powers to impose conditions when imposing an international banning order, including the surrender of a passport not more than five days before a designated match, and the duty to report to a named police station. That would tighten the existing regime, under which someone subject to an order can attend a police station of their choice without prior notification to that police station. Those changes make the system more watertight and effective, something that I hope the House will universally welcome.
§ Mr. Maclean
What advice has my hon. Friend received—independent legal advice or advice from the Home Office lawyers—about whether the proposal for the surrender of passports is consistent with article 12 of the international convention on civil and political rights, and the famous legal case, Luisa and Carbone v. Ministero del Tesoro?
§ Mr. Burns
My right hon. Friend has raised an important issue. I would not want to introduce legislation that did not comply with our commitments on human rights, and I assure my right hon. Friend that that element in the Bill, like all the others, has been checked and I am satisfied that there is no conflict.
§ Mr. Fabricant
There may or may not be conflict with the International Court of Human Rights, but what about the European Union Council directive 73/1148 and Council directive 64/221? What about our friends in Brussels?
§ Mr. Burns
I am reassured that even a debate on football hooliganism cannot escape wider intrusion from Europe. I can assure my hon. Friend that, as the Bill was drafted, legal advice was sought to ensure that its provisions would in no way conflict either with human rights or with the European directives to which we have signed up. The Bill is compatible with them all and there is no problem.
The significant change that those two clauses would bring about is that, whereas under the Football Spectators Act 1989, the courts are requiredto be satisfied that issuing an order would help to prevent violence or disorder".under my Bill they would have to havereasonable grounds to believe that making the order would help to prevent violence or disorder".The designation in the 1989 Act is too high a threshold, tougher than in other parts of the criminal law. It is right to lower the threshold and bring the measure into line with other parts of the criminal law.
Clause 2 would add certain offences, such as ticket touting, to those designated as football related. It would also extend the offences listed in schedule 1 of the Football Spectators Act to cover attempts, conspiracy and incitement to commit such offences. Crucially, clause 2 also adds to the list of football-related crimes certain offences of violence and disorder not committed at a 475 football ground or on a journey to a football match, but committed within 24 hours of a designated match and related to it. For example, as I explained earlier, acts of violence or disorder in the United Kingdom following our being knocked out of the world cup last year would be considered football-related crimes.
Clause 4 would amend the 1989 Act and increase the minimum and maximum duration of an international banning order from between six to 10 years for those who have served a custodial sentence, and from three to five years for those convicted of a football-related offence who have not been given a custodial sentence.
Clause 5 enhances the procedures for use when someone is convicted of a football-related offence abroad, by simplifying the processes under which details of convictions for corresponding football-related offences committed outside England and Wales are provided to the British courts.
The second part of the Bill deals with domestic football banning orders. Clauses 6 to 8 would improve and make more effective the banning orders that the courts already have the power to make under the Public Order Act 1986 for all designated matches in England and Wales. Those would apply to people convicted a football-related offence, and could be issued for a minimum of 12 months and a maximum of three years, whereas, under current legislation, the courts issue them for anything from three months upwards, and there is no cap on the time that an order can last.
Clause 7 specifies that offences that can trigger a domestic football banning order are the same as those that apply to an international order. Improvements in the powers dealing with both international and domestic banning orders are badly needed and eminently reasonable.
To put the situation into perspective, I must tell the House that those powers are not used in a draconian way but responsibly, with proper checks and balances within the judicial system. The House may be interested to know that the latest available figures show that there are 113 international banning orders and about 400 domestic banning orders in place, in the context of a league match attendance in 1997-98 of more than 26 million people.
However, I would be less than candid if I did not tell the House that I would like to amend my Bill in Committee to extend the power of the courts to issue international banning orders to unconvicted football hooligans where the courts are persuaded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person travelling abroad is likely to commit acts of violence or disorder.
There are numerous precedents within the law, in certain circumstances, of withdrawing unconvicted individuals' rights to travel abroad. For example, unconvicted individuals who are on bail can, under existing law, have their passports removed. Secondly, in certain child custody cases where nobody has committed an offence, if the courts believe that there are reasonable grounds to think that a parent may seek to take a child beyond the jurisdiction of the British courts, that parent, too, can have his or her passport removed, despite the fact that he or she has committed no offence whatever.
§ Mr. Maclean
My hon. Friend will appreciate that, although there is not a huge attendance in the Chamber 476 today, his last comment has left the House in stunned silence. Does he accept that there is a huge qualitative difference between the two precedents that he quotes for restricting the rights of people to travel abroad and the circumstances of a person who is not convicted of a crime being prevented from travelling abroad simply because people think that he is a criminal? Surely there must be European Court of Human Rights implications for that move.
§ Mr. Burns
I fully understand my right hon. Friend's concerns, although it will have come as no great surprise to the Chamber to hear me make those comments because it has been widely publicised over the past few months that I would hope to include that provision in the Bill at some stage. I do not share the full concern of my right hon. Friend because, if this provision were included in the Bill at a later stage—I say "if", because it will be up to hon. Members to decide whether the Bill is amended—the power would not be used willy-nilly on a whim.
Due to the actions of my right hon. Friend and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe, we now have the National Criminal Intelligence Service, a highly sophisticated, effective intelligence-gathering unit, which has done much since its creation to help to combat and overcome problems of football hooliganism. The NCIS knows many individuals who are hard-core organisers or participants in football hooliganism, who have been fortunate not to have been charged or convicted and who carry on their illegal activities. It would be up to the courts to decide whether the individual concerned should have a banning order placed on him, based on evidence, intelligence and the test of reasonableness that is used in other aspects of British law.
If someone were to find himself in that position, he would have the right to appear or to be represented in court to argue that it would be wrong to issue a banning order and, if an order were issued, then to appeal. I am satisfied that there are enough checks and balances in the system for that power not to be abused. Obviously, however, that matter will have to be discussed in Committee and the wishes of the House will have to be taken fully into account before any change is made—if a change is made—in Committee.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border also mentioned human rights. I assure him that that matter will be looked into before any amendments are tabled, because one does not want to seek to amend a good piece of legislation with something that might contravene our wider obligations.
§ Mr. Forth
I hope that my hon. Friend will read what he has said in Hansard and reflect on it. He seems to have said, "Don't worry, there is now a sophisticated intelligence-gathering mechanism within our society, which can make accusations against individuals, who, with no due process of law, can then be subject to this sort of sanction." To my mind, that sounds uncannily akin to the old Soviet Union. It, too, had a sophisticated intelligence-gathering mechanism that could encroach on people's freedoms without the due process of law that we used to think distinguished us from that country.
§ Mr. Burns
My right hon. Friend uses characteristically colourful language. Let me seek to 477 reassure him. I am sure that he welcomes the fact that we set up the NCIS in the early 1990s. It has done tremendous work, in the field not only of football-related crime but of drugs, counterfeiting and so on, which is helping to improve the security of the ordinary citizen. Obviously, those who work for the NCIS are extremely experienced and good at knowing who may be involved in illegal activities surrounding football.
My right hon. Friend suggests that there would be no due process of law. There would be, because an order would not simply be issued willy-nilly. Any case would have to go before the courts, where the NCIS would have to prove that there were reasonable grounds to believe that. if a person travelled abroad to a football match, he or she might commit an act of violence and disorder. Given that that individual would be able to appear in court or be represented in court to put the case as to why that should not happen, and have a right of appeal if the court decided that there was sufficient reasonableness to believe that he would commit an act of violence or disorder, there are safeguards.
This proposal is just a suggestion. It would have to be discussed in Committee, and whether it becomes part of the Bill would depend on the wishes of this House.
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)
My hon. Friend ignores the first rule of holesmanship: when one is in a hole, one stops digging. He raised this matter on the Floor of the House this morning, and is now pleading that it will be all right because it will be discussed in Committee. Is he seriously saying that, if the NCIS has information that leads it to believe that a man is a burglar, although he has no convictions for burglary, and he is going to travel abroad to Spain where he might burgle somebody, his passport should be taken away?
§ Mr. Burns
No, I am saying that, if the NCIS has evidence that leads it to believe that somebody is likely to commit a football-related offence abroad and incite football-related violence or disorder, the NCIS may have, if the amendment is accepted in Committee, the right to go to court to try to get a banning order.
I have raised the matter this morning because I do not want to be accused of glossing over it, or of misleading the House. I am trying to explain exactly what my Bill does and how I should like to see it amended. Whether it is amended or not is not up to me; it is up to hon. Members. However, I do not want to be accused of bad faith in not spelling out at the start what I should like to see in the Bill so that people can take a global view of this legislation.
As we have just seen from interventions, there are civil liberties concerns. However, it is equally important that innocent football fans also have civil liberties to enjoy football matches peacefully. We should not lose sight of the fact that their civil liberties are constantly infringed by a mindless minority.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
Will my hon. Friend go a little further and say that the House should also have regard to the civil liberties of the communities who suffer when those who are clearly intent on wanton violence and vandalism, or who are known to the police to be inciting such behaviour, travel abroad and commit such offences? Does he agree that, when the House addresses where the 478 balance should be struck in that regard, we must remember the television pictures that we saw showing what happened to businesses in Marseilles and other communities in the south of France, which brought shame on this country?
§ Mr. Burns
I wholeheartedly share my hon. Friend's sentiments.
Clause 9 closes a loophole in existing legislation on racist and obscene chanting. At present, it is an offence for two or more people to indulge in that disgraceful and disgusting activity with regard to football. The Bill will extend the powers to individuals.
Clause 10 closes a loophole on ticket touting by extending the law to cover the sale of tickets for designated football matches played overseas. Tickets for overseas matches will be sold legally only by authorised sellers.
§ Mr. Burns
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I should like to progress, as several hon. Members wish to speak.
The Bill will impose an estimated additional cost to the public purse of about £100,000, and additional manpower is estimated at five staff. The Bill would come into force two months after receiving Royal Assent, and would therefore be in place in time for most of the next football season.
I am extremely grateful for the cross-party support that the Bill has attracted. This should not be a partisan, party political matter. We should unite in seeking to combat the horror and misery caused by football hooliganism. The Bill tries to do so by closing loopholes in existing law and giving the authorities and courts greater powers to bring thugs and hooligans to justice.
I am heartened by the support attracted by the Government's consultation and my Bill. Many members of the public have written to me offering support. In addition, the Football Association has said of the consultation document, and, by implication, the Bill:Abuses by a small number of hooligans of the civil liberties of the peaceful majority make the other measures justified. They will help preserve the civil liberties of the vast majority of the population.The NCIS said:This set of proposals offers a genuine chance to get to grips with what we perceive to be an increasingly worrying situation … in particular, we welcome the recommendations on both restriction and exclusion orders.The Association of Chief Police Officers said the proposals werean important development tackling the problems posed by hooligans at football matches.Any fresh measures against hooligans must make sure that the freedoms of the vast majority who want to attend and enjoy sporting events in peace are not spoiled by the small number bent on violence and disruption. The Bill would give us power to protect the freedoms of the vast majority from the moronic behaviour of a very small minority. I wholeheartedly commend it to the House.
§ Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)
I congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his good luck in introducing the Bill, and I shall comment later on how much good luck he has had.
The Bill is welcome as a further step in the continuing fight against football hooliganism. I join those who have said that, in debating a football-related Bill today, our minds must turn to the families and friends of the 96 victims of the Hillsborough disaster 10 years ago. That goes without saying, but I should like to place my sympathy on record.
In declaring various of my interests, I hope to demonstrate to the House why I have a keen and long-standing interest in the issues that we are debating. I am chairman of the Football Trust, patron of the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs, chairman of the all-party sports group, author of "Labour's Charter for Football" and a member of Liberty. I am, of course, speaking in my own capacity today.
After many years of campaigning for action on these important issues, I should, under normal circumstances, be jumping for joy to see the Bill introduced today. It draws on much of the thinking set out in "Labour's Charter for Football", Labour's policy document on football, published before the last election. It will go a long way towards stamping out hooligan behaviour among a minority of so-called football supporters.
The charter was the result of extensive consultation with interested parties. It received the endorsement of the Football Association, the Premier league, the Football League, the Professional Footballers Association, the National Federation of Football Supporters, the Football Supporters Association, the Football Trust and many others. It highlighted the need for greater use of restriction orders for those convicted of football-related offences and encouraged co-operation with other European Governments in stamping out hooliganism.
The charter was the first document to highlight the inadequacy of the law on racist chanting, and it pledged that the new Labour Government would tighten the law on the chanting of obscene and racist remarks to cover individual transgressions and provocations of players and supporters. That proposal was later endorsed by the football task force, and it is in clause 9 of the Bill.
In common with the Bill, the charter recommended an increase in football-related offences and powers to allow the police to deal adequately with ticket touts. The charter also recommended the setting up of a task force, and one was established immediately after the Government came to power, albeit in a different form from that envisaged in the charter.
I have no intention of being churlish this morning, but it is important that the House should not forget those historical facts. It goes without saying that I believe the Bill to be a huge step in the right direction. It rightly seeks to redress serious imbalances and to close loopholes in the law on hooliganism, racist chanting and ticket touting, all of which were spelled out in our promises to the nation before the general election.
I must, however, chide my Front-Bench colleagues by registering disappointment, even disbelief, that such a valuable piece of legislation, developed and promoted by 480 Labour, has been handed on a plate to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford. In my 29 years in the House, I cannot recollect an occasion on which such a popular Bill drawn up by a Government has been passed over to the Opposition.
§ Mr. Burns
May I explain matters? I understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I have not sought to make any cheap party political capital out of the Bill. I fully acknowledge the help and support given me by the UnderSecretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), on a Bill that the hon. Gentleman is right to say has arisen from Government consultation.
I was fortunate enough to come sixth in the ballot. Although Labour Members were ahead of me, they decided, rightly—I do not criticise them at all—to introduce Bills closer to their personal interests. It would have been terrible if a Bill of this importance had not had a chance to get on to the statute book this year because we could not find an hon. Member high enough in the ballot to give it a speedy passage through the House.
§ Mr. Pendry
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I do not blame him at all. He is extremely lucky. I was merely trying to say that the Bill is so important that the Government should have found time for it in their legislative programme. Far from blaming the hon. Gentleman for picking up the Bill, I think he should go down on bended knee to my hon. Friend the Minister for giving him his opportunity.
The hon. Gentleman is popular on both sides of the House, and no one doubts his motives. However, I am surprised that he has taken up the issue, particularly because, to my knowledge, he has raised football only twice in the House. One was to attack one of my ministerial colleagues on a football-related matter. The other was to criticise the pools companies on the eve of the introduction of the national lottery, stating:They are organising a self-motivated, self-interested special pleading to defend their special interests and privileged position.—[Official Report, 25 January 1993; Vol. 217, c. 699.]
In the light of the financial contribution that the pools companies have made—channelling money into football and transforming our stadiums and therefore, almost by definition, combating the problems that we are discussing—many people would think that that was a disgraceful remark.
While I am on the subject, I am also concerned at the tone of the press release that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford issued on 31 March, on Conservative central office paper. As the House knows, the contents of the Bill are the result of a wide-ranging public consultation exercise carried out by the Labour party and the Home Office. I was greatly perturbed to read the press release, which talked of the purpose of "my Bill", as though the hon. Gentleman and the Conservative party had made a real and meaningful contribution to its composition—
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman's comments sound to me like sour grapes. Also, it sounds as though he is making them because he would rather be sitting where the Minister for Sport is sitting and he feels bitter about it.
§ Mr. Pendry
I am not directing this at the Minister anyway and it is not sour grapes because I am sure that 481 Ministers endorsed our charter too. I was merely pointing out something to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford. That intervention was untimely—it could have been made a little earlier perhaps, but not then. I was about to say that I am always prepared to give praise where praise is due. Who am I to dispute the ancient scripture—joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth? I am saying that the legislation is well thought out and that that owes more to Labour than to the Conservatives.
§ Mr. Maclean
I do not criticise the hon. Gentleman, but the difficulty is the convention that we all believe, say or pretend that every private Member's Bill is invented exclusively by the Member concerned. Perhaps it may help the hon. Gentleman if I remind him that two or three weeks ago, a Minister issued a press release in which the Government tried to take credit for a private Member's Bill on the day on which it was considered in the House. There was a row in the Chamber.
If we are to continue with the convention, although the Government may have a large part to play in assisting such Bills, we must continue to give private Members all the credit for them. If the Government start to take credit, some of us will think it legitimate to block the Bills because they are Government business.
§ Mr. Burns
I must clear up two matters. First, my press release of 31 March is on Conservative party paper, but that is because I happen to be an Opposition spokesman, so I am entitled to use our press office to put out my comments. Secondly, the press release mentions the purpose of my Bill and continues,on which I have worked closely with Kate Hoey MP, the parliamentary Under-Secretary at the Home Office.Perhaps I may reassure the hon. Gentleman that I do not want to make party political gain out of this matter. When discussing the Bill with the media or anyone else, I have always made it plain that the hon. Lady—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have given the hon. Gentleman some leeway, but interventions should be brief. He will have an opportunity to rebut any case made against him later.
§ Mr. Pendry
I think that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford made his point, but may I settle the matter? He said that he had made no political capital out of the Bill. I have spoken to two sponsors of the Bill, who were not aware of the press release, nor were they aware that the hon. Gentleman was seeking to extend the Bill in Committee in a way with which they may not have agreed. The hon. Gentleman may wish to take that argument on board.
Clearly, the Bill draws widely on other legislation since 1975. There have been more than 40 separate primary and secondary legislative measures on football—some have already been mentioned—including the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985, the Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport Act 1987, the Football Spectators Act 1989, the Football (Offences) Act 1991 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.
482 Therefore it is unfortunate that we require further primary legislation to back our efforts to eradicate the hooligan problem, but the fact remains that violence inside domestic football grounds has largely been eliminated—certainly from the higher levels of the sport. There are various reasons for that success and the introduction of all-seater stadiums and closed circuit television have been key developments.
There has been a dramatic transformation of the game, thanks in large part to the dedicated work of the Football Trust following the Taylor report. We now have the finest stadiums in Europe, if not the world. Every division of football has grounds of which we can be proud and I am sure that the Minister for Sport will find that an ace card in his determined efforts to bring the 2006 world cup competition to these shores.
While much in the Bill is to be welcomed, I must voice a note of caution about the possible implications. I never thought that I would share my worries with the right hon. Members for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), and the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). However, I am sure that we all share the common goal of making football a safer pastime for the genuine supporter—some of the measures are disproportionately severe given the size and nature of the problem and could affect the innocent supporter as much as the persistent hooligan.
Several areas of the Bill are of particular concern. Clause 1(2) proposes the lowering of the burden of proof for the issue of banning orders. The courts will be asked to issue orders if they aresatisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believethat issuing the orders would be likely to prevent violence or disorder. That proposal would clearly diminish the normal criminal standard of proof. It is also worrying that, under clause 1(3)(b) an international banning order can still be made when an absolute discharge has been ordered.
Potentially more troublesome are the proposed requirements set out in clause 3 to surrender passports prior to international matches. Clearly, I am not alone in harbouring doubts about the legality of such a proposal. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford said that he had taken legal advice, but perhaps he should take further advice on whether that measure would contravene article 12 of the international convention on civil and political rights.
Finally, the proposals detailed in clause 4 on increasing the duration of banning orders, to between six and 10 years for someone who has served a custodial sentence and three to five years for convictions without such a sentence, would clearly restrict the discretion of the courts to decide on the appropriate length of a banning order. Also, their legality in the face of freedom of movement, expression and association as guaranteed by the European convention on human rights and EU law is questionable.
The additional proposal that no application for a reconsideration of the duration of the order could be considered before the minimum period had passed seems mean spirited considering the various changes in personal circumstances that are likely to occur—illness or bereavement spring to mind. I would also welcome a ministerial response on ticket touting. While I very much welcome the provision in clause 10 to prevent touting for matches outside the
483 United Kingdom, which would clearly add to segregation and policing problems at international matches, we still need to do more to tackle touting at domestic football matches.
With many other hon. Members I took a leading role in the campaign from the Opposition Benches to ensure that provision was made for the outlawing of ticket touting at all football matches. That was, of course, a recommendation of Lord Justice Taylor in his report into the Hillsborough disaster, yet the previous Government dragged their feet on adopting it into law. The measure finally became law in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, some five years later.
However, as originally stated in Labour's charter for football, I remain concerned that the police and the courts are not implementing that provision. It is clear to those of us who regularly attend matches that, sadly, touting is flourishing with so many matches being sell-outs.
§ Mr. Maclean
The hon. Gentleman has infinitely more experience of football and the history of ticket touting than me, even though I had the ministerial brief on it; I was grateful for his advice at the time. Can he confirm that a large part of the problem at the world cup in France was the explosion of ticket touting on the internet? I doubt whether any Bill could deal with that. What can be done about it?
§ Mr. Pendry
The right hon. Gentleman is correct. I do not know what can be done. The House should share his concern. I hope that the Minister will seek advice on how to tackle the problem.
§ Mr. Pendry
I wish to proceed. I have given way to the hon. Gentleman before. I love him dearly. On second thoughts, I should like that remark to be struck from the record.
Touts conduct shady activity outside grounds and deny ordinary fans access to tickets at prices that they can afford, and, most importantly, their activities can lead to a breakdown of segregation in grounds, with serious implications for crowd control. Can the Minister confirm that her Department's guidance to police reinforces the need for them to use the powers already at their disposal to arrest those who tout outside grounds? Can she confirm, not necessarily today, the number of arrests and prosecutions in the five years since the provision was enacted?
Another issue on which the hon. Member for West Chelmsford might comment has come to my attention. His press release mentioned extending banning orders during the Committee stage to what he describes as unconvicted hooligans. I have discussed that with some of the Bill's sponsors who did not know that that was his intention. I understand that he has not discussed the Bill with some of them. I think that that was a mistake and I hope that he will do so before the Committee stage because I know that they would like to discuss that aspect. Many hon. Members think that some of the people covered would be considered innocent. Those of us who witnessed at first hand the scenes at Marseilles saw how 484 fans trying to steer clear of crowd trouble could easily have been interpreted by police as participants in a running battle. What are the Minister's intentions? Was she consulted by the hon. Gentleman?
I support any measures to stamp out the mindless violence that has plagued the game too often in the past. Closing loopholes on racist chanting and ticket touting is long overdue and to be applauded. We have made those proposals ourselves. I therefore welcome the Bill's intention to bring the different legislation together in one Act. I hope that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford will allay my fears on the issues that I have raised. With those fears addressed, I wish the Bill a speedy passage. With appropriate measures such as the Bill in place, the case for this nation as a fitting host for the 2006 world cup will be even stronger. I wish the Minister for Sport and his team the very best of good fortune in bringing that event to this country.
§ Mr. Nigel Jones (Cheltenham)
I congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his good fortune in introducing the Bill and on the articulate and courteous way in which he explained it. Like him and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), I remember with sadness what happened at Hillsborough 10 years ago and send my condolences to those still suffering from those terrible events. Football hooliganism is still with us, as we saw at Villa Park on Wednesday after the thrilling match between Arsenal and Manchester United when 700 fans invaded the pitch. The Bill is timely because we can start to tighten and strengthen the law on football offences.
I should perhaps declare my footballing interests. I have a league team, Swindon Town, and a non-league team, Cheltenham Town. They are both known as "The Robins" and, touch wood, the way things are going, I may soon have two league teams. Cheltenham Town are top of the Conference; they will no doubt now lose their last five games. I have seen both at Wembley. I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here, but I saw Swindon Town in the 1969 league cup final against Arsenal. The hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) will no doubt remember that as well. The score was 3:1 after extra time, and two Don Rogers goals saw the third division go home with the cup. I also saw Swindon at the 1993 play-offs, when they got into the Premiership for one glorious season. Most famously, last year, Cheltenham Town visited Wembley to win the FA trophy against Southport.
§ Mr. Caplin
The hon. Gentleman said that the Bill would help tackle what happened at Villa Park on Wednesday night. I am a neutral, but I saw not a pitch invasion—I will discuss those if I get the chance to speak—but a celebration by Manchester United fans.
§ Mr. Jones
I accept the hon. Gentleman's perception of what happened, but I know that the police felt that their job was made more difficult by 700 fans coming on to 485 the pitch. It is not helpful for fans to go on pitches in any sport. In Australia, there is a $5,000 fine for entering the cricket arena in a test match.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman might like to know that in Australia recent cases involving streakers have not been prosecuted. I am not sure what lesson the Australian courts have for us there.
§ Mr. Jones
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that detail. I am not sure whether it is in order to discuss streakers at cricket matches in a debate on football legislation; in any event, I doubt whether there will be much streaking in this weather.
Returning to the glories of Cheltenham Town, I wish that the debate was taking place next week. The Town need six points to secure promotion to the Football League for the first time. They have two league games before then, as well as tomorrow's FA trophy semi-final, after which they hope to go to Wembley to defend the trophy in May.
I support the main thrust of this good Bill. I want to consider clauses 9 and 10. The hon. Member for West Chelmsford showed his normal courtesy in explaining his desire to amend the Bill to provide for international football banning orders for people without convictions. I have concerns about that idea, but I am content for him to table the amendment so that it can be debated fully in Committee.
Clause 9 deals with indecent or racist chanting. I abhor racism, with good reason. In 1992, when I was first elected to the House, my Conservative opponent was Lord Taylor of Warwick. That attracted considerable media attention and put Cheltenham in the spotlight. Some disgraceful comments by certain individuals were found through deep media interest and gave the town a bad name. I tried to fend off that sort of nonsense. I remember an interview with the Daily Mail during which I was asked, "Aren't you going to win this election because of racism?" I replied with one sentence: "Racists are bigots who should not share our planet." They should not share our football terraces either.
I was grateful to Professor David Butler of Nuffield college, the well-known psephologist, who after the 1997 election wrote as follows:Thank you for proving that the 1992 result in Cheltenham was not a racialist freak.I can confirm to the House that people in Cheltenham are not racists. The chanting that we get at Whaddon Road when Cheltenham Town is playing is sometimes slightly obscene, and we need to do something about that. I have never heard any racist chants.
Obscene chanting does lessen the attraction of football to many, particularly women and children. I shall give an example. As I mentioned, Cheltenham Town was last year's FA trophy winner. The fans have a song congratulating the manager, Stevie Cotterill, who used to play for Wimbledon but was born in Cheltenham. It goes like this:Stevie Cotterill's magic,He wears a magic hat.When he saw the trophy, he said 'I'm having that.'We score goals with our left foot and we score them with our right, and when we score at Wembley we're …486 The words should, of course, be "Cheltenham dynamite". Sadly, the fans put an obscenity into the last line. I wish that they would not do that. I hope that if the team gets to Wembley again we shall hear the proper version of the song without obscenities.
It takes only one person to start trouble or to shout an offensive or racist chant. I have been observing fans at Cheltenham Town and at other grounds recently because I was aware that the Bill was to be introduced to the House. I was at the Kingstonian ground last Saturday for the FA trophy semi-final first leg. It was interesting to note that individuals in the stand started a chant. They were shouting something. Occasionally it was picked up by others. It was almost as if they were cheerleaders. More often than not there was a swear word or an obscenity included.
In proceeding with the Bill and in tightening legislation we must be careful not to outlaw the wit of some football fans. There are some very funny observations that turn into chants. A few weeks ago Cheltenham Town was playing Kettering Town, which was then at the top of the Conference league. It was a top-of-the-table battle. With a few minutes to go, Cheltenham was leading 3:0. A chant started:You've got three minutes left at the top.There was then a countdown, with the chant:You've got two minutes left at the top.That was followed by:You've got injury time left at the top.That was witty.
The talented and high-scoring Stevenage Borough striker Carl Alford was called Bouncy Castle when he came to Cheltenham because he was a big and well-covered individual. We should not do anything to outlaw that sort of thing. However, when Dover Athletic visited Cheltenham the chant went up:You're French and you know you are.Technically, that is racist. We should try to clamp down on that sort of chant.
We need the restraint of players when it comes to swearing on the pitch. A spectator who is quite close to the pitch can hear players swearing not only at themselves for missing a pass or a goal, but at officials. We need to try to stamp out abuse of officials. By all means point out that referees need glasses, and I think that more training for referees would be a good idea. However, the obscenities that are hurled at referees sometimes have the result that if there is 50:50 decision to be made, the outcome will be less likely to be in favour of the side that has been responsible for abuse.
I move on to recommendation 22 on page 19 of the "Review of Football-Related Legislation" that relates to alcohol. I note that the Bill does not include a related provision, and I hope that such a provision will not be inserted in Committee. I should declare an interest as the chairman of the all-party parliamentary beer group, or club, as it is described on headed paper. The recommendation reads:That legislative provision be introduced enabling chief officers of police to make application to the local licensing authority for the issue of an order with the consent of the Secretary of State to restrict the sale of alcohol in specified areas or the whole area within their licensing area for a specified period of time; and prevent the public consumption and carrying of alcohol in those areas during that time.487 If we were to introduce such a provision, it would have a devastating effect on the livelihood of those who sell alcohol in the areas concerned. It would also infringe the ability of those who have no intention of going to a football match or involving themselves in any illegal activity to buy a bottle of wine or a six-pack of beer to consume, for example, while watching "Grandstand" or enjoying a barbecue in the garden. We must ensure that we do not infringe the liberties of those who are not football fans or football match attenders.
The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), who intervened on the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), the former Labour spokesman on sport, was absolutely right to say that there has been a huge increase in internet traffic for ticket touting and for everything else as well. Internet use is to be encouraged but ticket touting is to be discouraged.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am genuinely confused on this issue. I can understand that ticket touting outside a stadium should perhaps not be encouraged. As I understand it from my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), people turn up at a match, do not get a ticket and then cause disorder. If people buy a ticket in advance from the internet, what is the problem? They then have a ticket and will go to the match. If they do not have a ticket, they do not go. I do not see a problem in buying a ticket from the internet.
§ Mr. Jones
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. If he is a member of the Committee that considers the Bill—I hope that he will be—he will be able to advance that point of view. It is an issue that we shall need to discuss in some detail in Committee. My view is that any sort of ticket touting is to be deplored and prevented.
§ Mr. Jones
That is the answer to the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant). While there is the potential for violence and other disorder at football matches, segregation will have to continue. In future, in an ideal world, we might be able to overcome the problems of violence and other forms of disorder, in which case the internet entrepreneurship about which we have heard may be permissible. When the Bill is considered in Committee, I think that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford will have to allow some time for the entire issue of internet touting to be discussed.
§ Mr. Maclean
Will the hon. Gentleman reflect on the point that I am about to make and tell me whether I am 488 entirely wrong? Most right hon. and hon. Members heap opprobrium on ticket touts but we seem to forget the people who supply tickets to them. Will they not often be directors and other members of clubs who have a ticket allocation? If ticket touting is to be such a vile offence, does the hon. Gentleman believe that action should be taken against those who have supplied the touts in addition to the touts who are reselling the tickets?
§ Mr. Jones
We need to examine the chain, from where tickets come from to where they go. Ticket touting is not, of course, confined to football. For example, there is a fine racecourse at Cheltenham. Disgracefully it is just outside my constituency. In effect, the Boundary Commission moved it out after the general election. Dozens and dozens of people are selling and buying tickets on the day of a meeting. That is the entrepreneurship of which the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) spoke. I think that they are genuine tickets. However, I do not think that they are supplied through the racecourse company. I know that there are allocations of tickets for football matches to directors and even to players, which sometimes find their way on to the black market. We need to consider that in Committee.
My 13-year-old daughter drags me to football matches whenever she has the opportunity. Tomorrow, she is taking me to Whaddon Road to see the second leg of the FA trophy semi-final—we are 2:2 at present and hoping to go to Wembley again. She says that half-time exists to remind of us what life would be like without football. The Bill will tighten the law so that some people—the moronic few—will have not only half-time without football, but whole seasons without football. That is right, because football is a great game; it is our national game and I support a clampdown on the moronic minority to bring hooligans and thugs to justice. We need to clean up the game and attract more fans, including women and children—whole families. That would support our argument for hosting the world cup in the UK. I wish the Bill well.
§ Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
I am glad to have the opportunity to take part in the debate and congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on introducing the Bill.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken today, I cannot contribute to the debate without first referring to the 10th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. We must remember that disaster, as we did in the minute's silence yesterday. We must understand that there are deep-seated concerns about the policing on that day, and that they are relevant to our consideration of the Bill. The issue has still not gone away. I realise that there is a continuing sense of unfinished business among all those who lost loved ones in that terrible disaster.
The House has a responsibility to those football fans and fans everywhere; we must do all that is in our power to make safety our number one concern in the nation's number one sport. Above all, we owe that to football fans; although the players perform on the pitch, the fans are the mainstay of the game and we are concerned about them in this debate.
As other hon. Members have pointed out, it is now right to pay tribute to the huge progress that has been made in improving safety at football matches—progress that we 489 would not have dreamed was possible 10 years ago. We have improved the safety of football stadiums and made football more family friendly—that is especially important. Football is an important game for all fans, but we should not lose sight of the fact that many people go with their families—mothers, fathers and children. More women now go to games and it is essential that we make football safer.
I am proud to be a vice-chair of the all-party group on football, like the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). That group has played more than its part in the improvements that have taken place. I had to get in a plug for the group; it is the largest all-party parliamentary group and makes the widest possible contribution to the debate on all football-related issues.
In considering the merits of the Bill, we should take stock of those improvements. Lord Justice Taylor's report did much to address safety concerns inside grounds. As the consultation document on the most welcome review of football-related legislation pointed out, legislation introduced in the early 1990s has helped to make football hooliganism inside domestic grounds largely a thing of the past. Here, I must congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) on her role in keeping up the momentum on that important review. I want to emphasise the word "largely", because there have been some worrying incidents recently. Although we heard from the right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) earlier that football hooliganism is decreasing, that does not mean that we should not deal with it when it does occur. The incidents that we have seen this week should serve as a stark and timely reminder that we can never afford to be complacent about the changes that have been made. Of course, it is true that events in France at the world cup last year acted as a catalyst for the consensus on the Bill.
One of the changes that Hillsborough forced us to make was the introduction of new policing arrangements at football matches. Like many hon. Members who have referred to that matter, I, too, have been privileged to attend briefings and debriefings, and have observed policing arrangements throughout matches. I went with the football group to see the arrangements that were made during Euro 96 and the changes that were made at that time—for example, the use of closed circuit television. I regularly attend police briefings in my own constituency at Port Vale and am aware of the progress made by the police, who are working alongside stewards and clubs throughout the country to maintain higher safety standards so that football matches are safer for fans.
There are many lessons to be learned from the policing of Euro 96 that should stand us in good stead if we continue with our bid to host the world cup in 2006. It is clear that a tremendous effort is being made by everyone connected with football to ensure that in 2006 the world cup takes place in this country. We must address the remaining problems relating to hooliganism if we are to have the best possible chance of success in that bid.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has made welcome adjustments to the pools levy to contribute more money to the essential financing of the ground and safety improvement work undertaken by the Football Trust. That work could not have been afforded by those clubs that are outside the winner-takes-all Premier League. Many clubs are grateful to the trust for the grants that have been 490 awarded. In my constituency, we recently received a grant of £2.5 million to build a new stand. That is one example of many large amounts that have been spent. Those improvements have not come about by accident; they have resulted from sustained work and the vision of a large number of people and organisations, including the football authorities. I pay tribute to the work of the Football Trust—to its past chairmen, its present chairman and its officers. That includes my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), who is in the Chamber today to contribute to the debate, as he always does when football is discussed.
We have come a long way, but we have not yet come far enough. The Bill is an important step along the road. In a sense, it is a return fixture in the debate on new clause 10 of the 1998 Crime and Disorder Bill. That debate took place on 22 June last year in the aftermath of the events in France. I realise that Opposition Members wanted to make improvements. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary acknowledged various proposals that were made at that time, but felt that it was not right to introduce legislation for a quick fix and that there should be proper consultation. That consultation has now taken place and 500 responses have been returned. The detailed proposals that we are debating have arisen from that. It is right to proceed by building that form of consensus to ensure that when we make changes, those changes will properly address the continuing concerns about hooliganism.
The Bill is right to target racist abuse. We are now in the aftermath of the Lawrence report and we must do what we can to continue to kick racism out of football. The Bill on its own will not deal with that, but many initiatives to target racism are taking place in community football throughout the country. Many prominent footballers are taking the lead by acting as mentors and that is important.
It is also right that the Bill should tighten specific powers relating to hooligans. I entirely support the measures that would give the courts powers to impose longer restriction orders and make international and domestic football—
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley) to acquit me of discourtesy, but the rules of the House dictate that points of order must be raised on the dot of 11 o'clock. Has Madam Speaker received a request either from the Foreign Office to make a statement on the bombing last night of Montenegro—a state that has tried to distance itself from President Milosevic—or from the Ministry of Defence on what instructions the Secretary of State has issued to British ships of the Navy, should they come into contact with those Russian ships and submarines now in the Mediterranean having passed through the Bosphorus?
§ Ms Walley
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I entirely understand the on-going concern and it is quite right that the House should be at all times the place where such issues are discussed.
Let me return to the Bill. It is important that the courts should have the powers to impose longer restriction orders and deal with international and domestic football banning 491 orders. If we can deter hooligans by making it clear that they will be required to report to specific police stations on the match days of their home and international teams; if we can give the courts powers to impose tighter controls and extend those powers to the Crown court; if we can succeed in requiring courts to make a presumption in favour of imposing an order and, if a court does not make an order, require it to explain why not; and if we can extend the period during which people can be charged with football-related offences and apply them over a longer period of time, we shall have made further progress in the interests of football safety for all.
I see that the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) has now left the Chamber—perhaps he has been given the red card by his hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford, who anticipated his right hon. Friend's kicking this Bill into touch, as he has so many other important Bills. However, I have to give a word of warning to the hon. Member for West Chelmsford: I would be extremely concerned if, in Committee, we went further down the road of giving greater powers to the police in cases where convictions have not been confirmed. Only in the past few weeks, I have dealt with a constituency complaint about police behaviour at a football match. It is important that we exercise great care and take lessons from such cases and from Hillsborough as well.
We have to address such concerns squarely, and I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's honesty in giving advance notice that he might go down that road in Committee. It is an issue that all the members of the Committee should take into consideration. We cannot simply hand over powers to the police where no offence has been committed. We should allow nothing that returns to the House after Committee stage to compromise our commitment to civil liberty and to the European convention on human rights. I presume that the extensive discussions that will take place with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will draw on all available expertise to ensure that, if such a proposal is mooted in Committee, the right advice is taken into account. We have to ensure that safeguards are in place.
All that presupposes that we can deal with continuing problems of football-related disorder through a Bill of only a few clauses. If passed, the Bill will make a huge difference, but the House must understand that the problems facing football will not cease simply because the Bill has been enacted. What about effective enforcement and policing resources to cover existing responsibilities, as well as those new responsibilities that the Bill would impose? Only last weekend, one of my constituents witnessed an extremely ugly incident en route from a football match, and he has yet to be convinced that the police response to that incident was adequate. We have to ensure that existing legislation is being properly implemented and enforced and that we are monitoring it. At the other end of the spectrum, there will be further cause for concern if complaints persist about over-zealous policing at matches. What is being done to promote proper training of police offices who carry out those duties? That is an issue that should be addressed in legislation.
492 I fear that, sooner or later, we shall have to address the enormous frustration that is welling up inside football and that, in some cases, is nearing the point where it breaks through in clubs whose fans are becoming more impatient as they see the success that is attached to so many of the Premier elite clubs eluding their own club. The Nationwide league and the network of clubs stretching the length and breadth of our country are unique—they do not exist anywhere else. Local passions and loyalties matter to an extent that is unknown in other parts of Europe.
The inequalities that have swept over the national game ever since the break away of the Premiership have to be acknowledged: we must recognise that there are now as many clubs facing the wall as there are successful clubs riding high on the crest of the wave, with everything to play for and undreamed of riches and rewards for their players. Everyone should be concerned: football players, many of whom now demand huge wages; the football task force; my hon. Friend the Minister, who understands football; my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who showed only last week that he will uphold the public interest as opposed to wider business and broadcasting concerns; my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, whom I was pleased to see present earlier and who commands great respect in the world of football and wears his love of football on his shirtsleeve; and the Government as a whole.
Frustration at the bad behaviour of hooligans who have no part to play in football and whose actions wreck the sport for the rest of us will be largely addressed if the Bill is passed. However, while supporting the Bill, we should be in no doubt that we shall have to organise a return fixture in the near future. We must address in greater detail commercial inequalities, the wider implications of the current Office of Fair Trading inquiry, and the European dimension to further proposed mergers involving broadcasters and the other business interests which combine to boost the fortunes of a few successful clubs at the expense of the majority of smaller clubs.
Let us not forget that football is first and foremost a sport. I hope that we can make progress and that the Bill will take us one step closer to establishing a level playing field for football. However, I suspect that, in due course, the House will have to consider having a regulator to oversee the many other issues that affect our national game.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet)
Last Sunday, my alarm went off at 4 o'clock in the morning. I got up and took my youngest son, Tom, to London to put him on a team coach—team coach? I wish—a supporters coach to Villa Park. He chose to spend his 18th birthday watching his team, the Arsenal, play Manchester United. Many hours later, a young man came back happy and exhilarated having had a great day out and having seen a tremendous game of football. I have to say that, after Wednesday, he was not quite so happy—I am told that my household is still in mourning, although it is the measure of his sort of supporter that he concedes, as all must, that it was a fair result.
I am grateful to my son and I mention him and his exuberance because it is infectious. My sporting religious preference has always been for the summer game, played with bat and leather; and, for many years, for winter 493 entertainment I turned to the game played with an oval ball. I enjoyed, if that is the right word, many of the prejudices of those who support those two games rather than soccer, which some rather precociously describe as the national game. My wife and I used to own a home within walking distance of Craven Cottage, and my prejudices were heightened by the fact that, on home match days, it was impossible for those who lived in the area to park within 100 miles of their own home and that, for some time after the game, the streets were filled with fairly raucous and—to some—fairly intimidating singing and chanting crowds, some of whom were over-excited by an excess of alcohol.
That is where I came from until Tom—at 13, I think—discovered, for no reason that I can understand, the Arsenal football club and latched on to it as his team. His enthusiasm was infectious. I bought him a ticket for a Boxing day match at Highbury and took him—because someone had to—to see the Arsenal play Queen's Park Rangers. I am delighted to report that the Arsenal won on that occasion.
That experience was a revelation. I found a stadium full of enthusiasts in good humour who supported two separate teams and who were, in the main, perfectly prepared to get on well with each other. The stadium—I appreciate that it is a Premier league stadium—was equipped with far better facilities than I had anticipated. Several times since then, I have enjoyed similar experiences with my son. We have even attended some minor league games. For example, a year ago, Margate looked momentarily as though it might become a giant killer by beating Fulham. Special stands were erected at Margate football ground. The ground was packed and the gate money was, to a team like Margate, riches beyond the dreams of avarice. Sadly, that dream ended fairly swiftly.
I agree that there is a problem, but I think that we must put it into proportion. As one who has come late to the enjoyment of this game, I get the impression that the overwhelming majority of men and women, boys and girls who enjoy soccer do so with tremendous enthusiasm and great good humour in a spirit of genuine sportsmanship. They wish to cause—and to see caused—no trouble whatsoever. We must remember that throughout this debate.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones) referred to the Arsenal-Manchester United replay on Wednesday and the "pitch invasion" that happened afterwards as if that were football hooliganism. I share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin): we actually saw Manchester United supporters showing tremendous exuberance, enthusiasm and excitement when their team won. I do not condone such actions. I am more than willing to concede that, for those required to police such situations, that kind of pitch invasion is not only undesirable but makes life much more difficult. I do not welcome it at cricket or rugby grounds and I do not welcome it at football grounds—although I do understand it.
§ Mr. Maclean
My hon. Friend has made the point that I intended to raise. Pitch invasions are common occurrences at rugby grounds after international matches. People may not welcome it, but the pitch invasion is not regarded as a violent criminal activity or a serious 494 problem. The youngsters who exuberantly invade the pitch when their side wins are not potential criminals, and should not be regarded as such.
§ Mr. Gale
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for reinforcing my point. We must be careful when regulating sporting events—or anything at all, for that matter—that we do not over-regulate to the point where we deny the genuine supporter the right to express genuine support.
I have sat in the north stand at Highbury and some of the people whose company I have shared on those occasions have been robust. Some of the language used would not necessarily be the kind that is spoken at ladies' tea parties in my constituency. However, I hesitate to say that I found it wildly offensive in that context—I refer to the north stand and not to the ladies' tea parties.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I shall give another Australian example to reinforce my hon. Friend's point that it is a question of degree and how one perceives hooliganism. Would my hon. Friend be surprised to learn that the New South Wales Legislative Assembly is discussing legislation to stop hooliganism at Australian Rules football matches in the form of the Mexican wave? That is what that assembly regards as hooligan behaviour.
§ Mr. Gale
My hon. Friend makes my point. I understand that the Mexican wave has become part of the game of football. Other hon. Members may find it offensive, but I certainly do not.
We must address some serious issues. I said yesterday—I am surprised to find myself saying it again today—that we are in danger of invoking the law of unintended consequence. I am worried that, unless it is addressed carefully in Committee, the Bill—which my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) has had the good fortune to introduce this morning—will have unintended consequences that may penalise not those whom we wish to penalise but the genuine supporters who go about their lawful and genuine business of supporting their team.
I do not want to see innocent fans either caught up in a riot that is not of their making and branded as football hooligans by accident, or denied the right to travel wherever in the world they wish to support their teams. Of course, I also recognise the right of the majority to enjoy their civil liberties and the peace and quiet of their towns, be it Marseilles or elsewhere. We witnessed totally unacceptable violent scenes in France during the world cup. However, I am not certain that my hon. Friend's Bill seriously addresses any of those issues.
First and foremost, young people—which is what many football supporters are—look to football players as their heroes. There was a time when every inch of wall and ceiling space in my son's bedroom was covered with pictures of one or other members of the team that he supports. I find nothing wrong with that: it is understandable and right. Because those players—it has been said this morning that they are very well paid—are such heroes and are so important, it is vital that they set the finest possible examples. Nothing in this Bill deals with that issue.
It is absolutely vital that players understand the laws of their game and respect the officials who are required to preside, now more than ever, in the glare of not only
495 floodlights but television cameras that are able, within 30 seconds, to replay every incident and thus reveal every mistake that human officials indubitably make. That is one of the core problems, and the Bill does not address it.
Although the sentiment behind it may be extremely worthy, I am deeply concerned by the suggestion that banning orders should be imposed against people who have not been convicted of an offence. I dare say that significant numbers of policemen policing the streets of London would dearly love to be able to arrest and lock up people who have not been convicted but whom they know to be villains. However, the law does not allow the police to do that—for a very good reason. As was reiterated yesterday, our criminal justice system is designed fundamentally to protect the interests of the defendant. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) reminded the House yesterday in another context that, in court, the interests of the defendant—who may lose his or her liberty in extreme circumstances—are paramount.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford did not answer my question when I intervened earlier, so I shall ask it again. The National Criminal Intelligence Service performs a vital service in the fight against crime and is very good at gathering information. Should we impose banning orders on the known burglar who is unconvicted, the unconvicted known sex offender or the unconvicted known City fraudster because they might intend to travel to Italy to perpetrate a burglary, to the south of France to commit a sexual offence, or to Geneva to practise financial fraud? Is that what we are saying? That is the logical extension of the proposals. I do not understand how, in a civilised, free democracy, which is dependent on the rule of law, one can say to someone before they have committed an offence, "We think that you will commit an offence, so we shall take away your passport." That is what my hon. Friend said.
§ Mr. Greenway
I entirely understand my hon. Friend's point, but what would he say if the National Criminal Intelligence Service had video footage of events in Marseilles in which individuals could clearly be seen committing violent acts and causing damage but, because they were returned swiftly to this country, they were never convicted? Would he regard the use of such video footage as a reasonableness test under which a restriction order might be valid?
§ Mr. Gale
I have to say to my hon. Friend that that may be a case for changing the law to allow those people to be prosecuted and convicted in the United Kingdom, and therefore banned, but it is not, in itself, a case for instituting a banning order.
Before my hon. Friend takes that argument any further, he should pay attention to the point, made by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), that many people were caught up in riots in Marseilles through no fault of their own and wanted to get away. If any of those people had been seen throwing a punch, it might well have been because someone with evil intent had just belted them and they were defending themselves. That person could find themselves on the wrong side of a 496 banning order, just as easily as could the person whom my hon. Friend and I would wish to prevent from causing further trouble.
§ Mr. Fabricant
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That happened not only in Marseilles but in Toulon, where a friend of mine picked up a table to defend himself. I could well imagine a camera picking him out while he was doing so, and, under these provisions, he could have had his passport withdrawn when he was only trying to defend himself against football rioters.
§ Mr. Alan Keen (Feltham and Heston)
Returning to the hon. Gentleman's analogy of a burglar, let me say that I agree with him that we would not want to stop people travelling abroad on holiday because they had been convicted of burglary in the past. However, I am sure that he would agree that, if we had information that such a person was part of a gang that intended to commit burglary on the continent—that is how football hooligans work—that person should be prevented from travelling abroad.
§ Mr. Gale
There is no provision in law for that to happen, although the hon. Gentleman may want to change the law to that effect. We are proposing to single out supporters of a particular game—we are not discussing cricket or rugby supporters—and apply to them a specially created legal provision.
The police in my constituency tell me that, if they could lock up a certain dozen or so people overnight, that would lead to a reduction, overnight, of the burglaries in the area because most of those are committed, or instigated, by that small number of people. However, the law does not permit that because we have a justice system that is still based on the presumption that somebody is innocent until proven guilty. If we are to change that basis, we must carefully think through the consequences of doing so.
§ Mr. Burns
I certainly agree with that sentiment, but does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill's proposals are not unique in British law? Such powers already exist in cases of non-convicted people on bail and non-convicted people who are suspected of being likely to take their child out of the country.
§ Mr. Gale
I heard my hon. Friend use those two examples in his opening remarks, and I heard, with equal clarity, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean), a former Home Office Minister, demonstrate clearly why there is a fundamental difference between those provisions and what my hon. Friend and other hon. Members are proposing.
There are two positive aspects that the Bill does not address, but that should be dealt with in any legislation on this subject. The fundamental ingredients of good practice are good facilities and good stadiums. To make the point brutally, if one treats people like pigs, some of them are likely to behave like pigs. Most, if not all, first-class stadiums are all-seater and most offer good sanitation and adequate lavatory facilities that do not become clogged and revolting at half-time. Most offer 497 good food at reasonable prices and good drink outlets capable of serving modest quantities to large numbers of people at peak times.
Those factors enhance people's enjoyment of the game and diminish the possibility of them feeling anger and frustration. Facilities are a key issue that must be addressed, not only for football but for all sports in this and other countries. We have to seek enhancement at every level, not only at Premier league grounds, of the facilities available to those who, at the end of the day, pay the wages of the footballers, cricketers or rugby players. It grieves me that so much money has been wasted—on the wretched dome, for example—that could have been spent usefully to enhance facilities for young sports men and women and the fans that seek to enjoy the games. In considering the Bill, the House should take a long, hard look at the provision of facilities.
The second, crucial aspect, which has been mentioned several times this morning, is ticketing. I am fortunate to have a constituency that places me within easy reach of France. I have significant numbers of friends in France; I choose to spend my holidays there and I visit the country regularly. In the run-up to the previous world cup series, the ticketing arrangements—never mind in the United Kingdom, but in France itself—were a joke. The manner in which the allocation of tickets for key matches was handled was outrageous. I suspect that one of the problems that led to violence was the anger and frustration expressed by genuine supporters who felt that they were being ripped off.
If any game, but particularly soccer, is to diminish violence still further—that is what we all want—ticketing much be managed properly. There is nothing wrong in using the internet to deal with that. I do not particularly like the fact that touts can charge inflated prices for tickets at the gates of Arsenal or Wimbledon football grounds, at Lords or anywhere else, but there is a free market element in ticketing that we should not overlook. The important consideration is that fans should have proper access to the tickets so that they know whether they will be able to get into the ground on the day at a fair price.
I heard the hon. Member for Cheltenham say that he believed that segregation is necessary for the foreseeable future. I believe in integration at sports grounds. When I went, a few weeks ago, to Bath to watch Bath play Newcastle at rugby, I was not segregated—nobody told me where I had to sit or stand. I went and watched the game and I was surrounded by as many black and white scarves as ones for the local team. There was no problem.
§ Mr. Gale
It is no good the Minister for Sport muttering that that is a different life. It should not be different and it does not need to be different. I, for one, will not accept the perpetuation of that different life. One of the ways of getting to grips with that problem and achieving integration and better behaviour inside the grounds—I accept that not all problems occur inside the grounds—is to have better ticketing arrangements.
This is a very important Bill. It is far too complex to be allowed to go through this House as a private Member's Bill. The Government should have introduced it, especially since, as has rightly been said, the Minister 498 for Sport and his team have put so much personal effort into the matter. I am saddened that they have not found time to do so. I hope and believe that the Bill will receive radical surgery in Committee. If it does, it may stand a prayer. Unless it does, many of us will find it necessary to oppose Third Reading.
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
I am glad to have the opportunity to say a few words on this Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on introducing it. I am one of its sponsors on the Government Benches, but I should make it clear from the outset that I will not be able to serve on the Committee that will consider it because I already serve on the Modernisation Committee, which sits on Wednesday mornings.
It is important that we consider these issues, so as to ensure that we eliminate the harm and tremendous damage that is done at games by a minority of people who call themselves football supporters. It is right to say that most of the problems no longer occur at games. Indeed, one can always tell who is going to cause trouble at a game, because they are the ones who pay very little attention to what is going on on the pitch. They are looking at other things, so one can nearly always identify them when sitting in the stands.
I associate myself with all the comments In this debate on the Hillsborough tragedy and the tributes paid yesterday on the 10th anniversary of it. We shall never forget the grave tragedy at that FA cup semi-final.
I also want to make it clear that I am the secretary of the all-party football group but I am certainly not speaking in that capacity, as that group has not taken a particular view of the Bill. I have been a Burnley supporter for more than 50 years, and recently acquired five shares in the football club. In a true sense, I am now one of Labour's stakeholders. For a number of years, I have also been president of the Burnley Football Club London Supporters Association.
The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) referred to Margate and dreams. Football is in many ways a game of dreams. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), who should be the hon. Member for Port Vale because she is such a fanatical supporter of the club, as am I of Burnley, referred to the Premier and Nationwide leagues and the spread of clubs. Dreams make football a major participation sport and, of course, the No. 1 spectator sport in this country. We must recognise the tremendous increase over recent years in the number of spectators who go through the gates for Nationwide and Premier games.
I remember Wimbledon playing at Turf Moor in the FA cup 26 years ago. Indeed, when I was at school, I remember seeing the team play Kingstonian in the Athenian league. It came to Burnley as a southern non-league club. Twenty six years later, the once mighty Burnley is in one of the lower divisions, and has been for most of those 26 years, whereas Wimbledon has of course a much better record in the FA cup and the league over that period.
§ Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
May I correct my hon. Friend? When Wimbledon played Kingstonian, it was in the Isthmian league.
§ Mr. Pike
I accept that. I am one of those who never knew which was the Isthmian league and which was the
499 Athenian league. I am glad to be corrected, and I am sorry for the slip. As I was saying, the fact that people can dream of moving up divisions makes football such an important game.
When the Government consulted on the review of football-related legislation earlier this year, Burnley football club published my full-page summary of it in the club programme. As most football fans will know, the average football fan who buys a programme reads it from cover to cover, recognising every deliberate mistake and every unintentional one that slips through. People who commented to me following that article—I did not receive many letters on it—said that they strongly supported the measures that the Government were proposing, which were very much along the lines of the Bill.
I received a letter from a constituent, Mr. Leedam, who has written to me on a number of issues. He used to be a very keen football fan but was put off by hooliganism. He used to support Burnley both at home and away. He pointed out—the hon. Member for West Chelmsford made the point that this Bill is particularly trying to address the matter—that problems occur more often away from, rather than inside, grounds. Discussions between Burnley football club and Lancashire police this year revealed that an increased number of games have been designated police-free. In other words, the police take the view that club stewards are fully able to deal with any problems inside the ground and that the police should be present only outside it. It is therefore right that the Bill attempts to address the present problems.
We must ensure that a minority of people do not spoil the name of football and do not create trouble in town centres and elsewhere, so that others are afraid of walking around, doing their Saturday shopping and other things. I stress that problems are caused by the minority, although, unfortunately, we must so often take action to deal with such minorities.
The hon. Member for West Chelmsford described additional measures that he might want to introduce. I warn him to be extremely wary in doing so. I have always been quite strong on civil liberty and human rights issues. I have been surprised by some interventions by Opposition Members, whom I would not always regard as the greatest champions of such issues. That shows that we must be very careful. I have looked carefully at the matter and think that, on balance, the Bill goes just about far enough. It strikes a fair balance. In a civilised society, a balance must always be struck between protecting the lives of the many and dealing with the minority in drawing a line on civil liberties. It would be a little dangerous to embark upon some of things that the hon. Gentleman said that he might like to consider in Committee. I say that genuinely; we must be very careful.
§ Mr. Maclean
I have been looking at the proportionality of the Bill. Last year's National Criminal Intelligence Service figures show that there were 258 criminal offences involving some measure of violence at football matches. The latest Home Office statistics show that crimes of violence against the person totalled 256,000. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree that the Bill goes slightly too far?
§ Mr. Pike
I have great respect for the right hon. Gentleman, who is a former Home Office Minister. I am 500 greatly concerned about all violent crimes. Today, we are discussing one issue, and Mr. Deputy Speaker would not want me to speak on how to deal with the wider picture. I should like us to live in a society where all people should go about their ways without fear of acts of violence. We must consider the matter carefully; I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point.
This year, I went to one away match at Maine Road—I have attended more than one, but I am talking of one that attracted a crowd of more than 30,000. When the match ended, Burnley fans were asked to stay in the ground to allow Manchester City fans to move away, but even when we were told that it was safe to leave, a minority of fans of both sides—not just City fans—were causing major problems. For a short time, I felt extremely worried about whether I could safely reach the place to catch a bus into the centre of Manchester for my return to Burnley. Such problems should not occur.
If, when I am watching Burnley play Bournemouth tomorrow afternoon, we hear that Blackburn are losing their game to Southampton, the news may get the biggest cheer of the afternoon, because nothing will delight us more. I share the typical Burnley supporter's view that Blackburn's relegation would be great news for Burnley, and would deserve a cheer. However, I would not support the idea of throwing missiles and so on. Some years ago, when I sponsored a ball for a friendly game between Burnley and Blackburn Rovers, I went down the road and saw some of the extreme minority throwing bricks from one side to another. That cannot be condoned.
Some of the behaviour of fans travelling abroad does tremendous harm to the country's image abroad. I accept that there are problems in other European countries. I have been in Auxerre in France when a football match has been on and seen problems in that town, so I am under no illusions; I do not believe that such behaviour is solely a British problem. Nevertheless, we must deal with our people. We do not want English fans to give this country a bad name.
Clause 9 deals with indecent and racialist chanting. The other week, I received a letter from a rector of a church who is now not in Burnley but who was a curate at a local church several years ago. In that letter, he complained about the chanting in the family stand. He has been very encouraged by the response that he has had from the club, and the increased stewarding and the action by stewards at following matches. Football at Burnley has always attracted many women supporters, and we must accept that it is much more of a family sport than it used to be. People take their families to matches probably more than at any time in the history of the game. Indecent or racist chants are unacceptable, and I fully support what the police are seeking to do about them.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) that further action must be taken, in this country as well as in relation to international matches, to clamp down on ticket touting. I welcome the Bill's provisions on touting. Tickets for some matches are snapped up, but, as one approaches Wembley for a match, one still sees people selling tickets. The genuine football supporter—the one who bought the season ticket, the one who attends every week—is unable to get a ticket for a semi-final or other important match without paying over the odds.
501 The hon. Member for North Thanet said that the way in which touting was tackled in France and outside France recently was a fiasco. There is no better way to describe the way in which those tickets were distributed, and we must ensure that that does not happen again.
The Bill is another step in the right direction of ensuring a good name for football in this country. We do not want to allow the minority to destroy it, and we need to tell the minority, both by legislation and in other ways—for example, via football clubs—that we are not prepared to tolerate such behaviour. Burnley football club exercises a policy, which may seem somewhat brutal at times, that anyone who commits a football-related offence is banned for life from Turf Moor. That may be stretching it a bit far, because people may make mistakes, but it is the responsibility of all of us who want football to have a good name to say repeatedly that we are not prepared to tolerate a minority harming it.
I want the 2006 world cup here in this country, and we must ensure that we do everything possible to ensure that English football—and Welsh football, which is also covered by the Bill—is of the best possible standard, and that a minority is not allowed to damage its name.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike). As president of York City football club, I hope that we are still playing Burnley in the second division next season, and at the moment I think that that is more doubtful from our perspective than from his. I am pleased to be wearing our club tie for this debate.
During the debate on the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill yesterday, I was able to comment in memory of all those youngsters who died at Hillsborough 10 years ago, and I am glad to have the chance to do so again today.
Like one or two other hon. Members, I was not entirely happy with the outcome of proceedings at Villa Park on Wednesday night. I should perhaps try on the Under-Secretary the joke that I tried on her right hon. Friend the Home Secretary yesterday—although it did not seem to work on him. I think it was a pity that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry could not have had as much influence on the outcome of the Arsenal-Manchester United result as he had on other matters affecting Manchester United—which, for the record, I personally welcome.
Other hon. Members spoke of a pitch invasion at Villa Park after the FA cup semi-final on Wednesday night; I agree with them that the fans were celebrating victory, not looking to cause trouble. However, it is not always that way, and I recall one black day at York City football club when, in a promotion season for Sunderland, York beat Sunderland 2:1. If I remember rightly, we were relegated that year as well, and the Sunderland fans invaded the pitch, destroyed the goals and caused mayhem. It is therefore important, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) said, that whatever legislation we bring to the statute book not only is proportionate but provides for the discretion that is obviously needed in such circumstances.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his success in the ballot. I believe that he has made a wise choice in promoting the 502 Bill—however it came to attract considerable Government support and input. I say that because I believe such issues are best addressed not when we are reacting in anger to recent incidents, but when they are no longer headline news and we have the chance for sober reflection on what has gone wrong. The time is right for us to consider this subject now, when we are not reflecting in anger on the violent conduct of soccer fans such as that which we saw last year.
Hooliganism has plagued football for many years, but it has been hooliganism by a minority. I believe that for the vast majority of fans it has spoiled the enjoyment of the game and of attending football matches. It has created difficulty for residents and businesses in the vicinity of football grounds, as well as—this is the unfortunate trend again at the moment—from time to time on motorways or as people travel to and from matches.
Over time, successive measures have been introduced in Parliament, with varying success. I am glad to have played a role in some of them. On the debit side—I say this particularly to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant)—I have not always accepted the Government or Opposition line. I voted against the Football Spectators Act 1989 on Second Reading, not because I did not agree with the measures that we are seeking to strengthen in the Bill today, but because I thought that the membership scheme was a recipe for disaster. Hopefully, the record shows that those of us who took that view have been proved right.
§ Mr. Greenway
I suspect that the silent majority who would support the Bill are elsewhere doing other things, but that remains to be seen.
In 1990-91, the Select Committee on Home Affairs undertook a detailed inquiry into football hooliganism following the 1990 world cup in Italy. Some of the measures that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford is looking to strengthen were introduced following that report in a private Member's Bill which, at the time, was given Government support—particularly measures on racist chanting.
Within the game, it is now generally accepted that violence within grounds has been significantly diminished—the statistics mentioned in the debate support that—but that problems outside grounds still exist. I would say that the measures have contained hooliganism, rather than eliminated it. The work of the police through the NCIS and the national crime squad has played a significant role in ensuring that that success has been achieved.
It has long been recognised that there are several weaknesses within the legislative framework. Equally, the problems that remain are not easily solved. The most important outstanding problem in football is the violent conduct of a few supporters attending international matches abroad. More often than not, that concerns the England team, rather than clubs, whose fans by and large behave themselves impeccably when they go abroad. This 503 year, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea have travelled abroad frequently, and I cannot recall much news of trouble. When the England team goes abroad, it always seems that trouble follows not far behind.
Concern has been expressed at the authorities' inability to prevent known hooligans and those who have a clear intent of violent conduct from travelling abroad. The Bill's proposal for international football banning orders seems to be a sensible extension of existing legislation. The Bill seeks to address that major difficulty.
We must consider the wording of clause 1. If we are to impose a duty on a court to make a banning order, we must establish clearly the reasonable grounds on which that duty will be based. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford will recognise that that is a key question for the Committee.
The difficulty of preventing some of those people from travelling to matches often arises because those identified by police intelligence as hellbent on causing trouble have no previous convictions for violent behaviour. If they do, the offences have not been described as football-related on the charge sheet. Often, the offences have not been football-related because the provision of the relevant legislation which prescribed what could be a football-related offence may have been too narrowly drawn.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) rightly referred to statistics that point to about 250 violent offences that were football-related, as opposed to 250,000 assaults—to use his description—generally. The point that he misses is that a number of those assaults would have been classified as football-related had the definition been wider; none of us knows how many, but there will have been quite a few. Because those offences were not designated as football-related, we face the problem that the orders that would have restricted people's ability to travel to matches and to cause trouble somewhere else on another occasion have been limited. That is a key issue that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford is seeking to address in the Bill.
§ Mr. Maclean
I realise that detailed Home Office research would be required to prove my hon. Friend's point, but I do not think that he is entirely correct. I believe that the NCIS, in its collation of criminal statistics, has taken the widest possible view of football-related offences permitted within the existing definitions, which are fairly extensive. Those 258 offences are contained within the 256,000 other violent offences.
§ Mr. Greenway
My right hon. Friend answers his own point when he says, "within the existing definitions". The case that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford has made—which, on balance, I support—is that the definition needs to be extended somewhat. That matter can be discussed in Committee.
As I have said, travel to international matches abroad is the major outstanding problem, but there is still difficulty in respect of travel to some domestic matches. Clause 6 attempts to deal with that.
§ Mr. Maclean
If my hon. Friend is suggesting that the figure of 258 violent offences at football matches is 504 artificially restricted because of the existing definitions, he should bear it in mind that the figure of 250,000 crimes of violence may not be the full picture either, on the basis that a large number of crimes are not reported by the victims. I am merely making a point about proportionality.
§ Mr. Greenway
That strengthens my argument, not my right hon. Friend's, because the violent yobbery that is still sadly associated with football clubs and may happen on the Friday night before a game or in the early hours of Sunday afterwards does not get reported, but if it were reported it would be right to class it as football-related. The Bill proposes a cut-off point of 24 hours before or after the game. If violence involves people who have been to football matches, there is a good argument for restricting their ability to go to other football matches and cause mayhem on the streets of somebody else's town. That is the central purpose of that part of the Bill.
If we are to have restriction orders, it goes without saying that the courts should impose the restrictions. The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) will remember that, when he was chairman of the all-party group on football a few years ago, we often debated the problem of the fact that the courts do not use the powers that they have, and there is still evidence of that.
The idea in clause 3 of imposing a duty on the courts to try to attach conditions such as restriction orders makes sense. We will have to discuss in Committee how that will work in practice, but it is entirely valid for us to attempt to ensure through legislation that restriction orders, be they domestic or international, are imposed more regularly. There has been consultation on that.
There is a problem concerning the Government's proposal in clause 1 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill to have a mandatory referral order for first-time young offenders who plead guilty. My understanding is that that would mean that, if a 17-year-old had been involved in a fight outside a football ground and pleaded guilty, the magistrates would have to impose a referral order if they did not impose a custodial sentence and that, because the offender was under 18—the reason for the referral order—they could not impose a restriction order.
When that Bill is in Committee I shall table an amendment designed to ensure that restriction orders as well as referral orders can be imposed. I suspect that Ministers will agree that that will be a sensible outcome; but that is a problem for that Bill, not this one.
The Bill proposes some changes to the offence of racist chanting. The fact that it is an offence arose from a proposal in a 1991 Home Affairs Committee report. The current law applies when two or more people are involved in the chanting and the Bill proposes that that should be reduced to only one person. I have no problem with that.
Some think that there is something to be said for the enterprise involved in ticket touting, as tickets can be a valuable currency, especially for high-profile matches; but touting can create problems with the segregation of supporters. It was Arsenal football club's experience with those problems that prompted the current legislation.
I agree that it behoves the football authorities to be rather more adept at distributing tickets sensibly. There has been general condemnation of the arrangements made for last year's world cup in France; they were pretty 505 chaotic. We need to deal with ticket touts in the criminal law, but it is also up to the football authorities to get their ticket sales arrangements absolutely straight.
The original consultation document proposed further restrictions on the sale of alcohol. My understanding is that that has not been welcomed during the consultation, and I am glad about that, because although that is a nice idea, it is far less straightforward than some may think. If a ban were widely drawn it would create serious disruption for local communities, often unnecessarily.
The Opposition's view is that my hon. Friend's Bill proposes some important changes to strengthen the law to combat football hooliganism. It is difficult for anyone to argue against its objectives, and in general I support and welcome them.
However, it is appropriate to add a note of caution. If the solutions that we seek were entirely straightforward, we would have introduced them before. Finding workable answers is not easy. One of the most characteristic features of the Bill is that it simply makes a series of amendments to existing Acts. It does not create any new ideas or offences, but simply extends what is already on the statute book.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)
Because that is not working.
§ Mr. Greenway
The hon. Lady anticipates the point that I was about to make.
We have some experience of the existing legislation, and now Parliament is being asked to improve it and get rid of the deficiencies. That is exactly what we are here for, and it is perfectly reasonable to ask us to do it. I hope that that argument answers those who ask why all this was not done in the first place. We are not imposing draconian measures just for the sake of it, but we are thinking about slightly more draconian laws now, in the light of our experience of the problems that I have outlined.
Against that background, we should commend my hon. Friend for the ideas that he has suggested to solve our present difficulties. However, as we reflect with care on those measures, we must keep in mind the fact that there are civil liberties implications, about which I know that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends have strong views.
The surrender of passports should not be introduced lightly—
§ Mr. Greenway
Before my hon. Friend intervenes, I want to say that I do not believe that what is proposed in the Bill will lead to the wholesale surrender and confiscation of passports. It is my understanding and 506 belief, and certainly my intention, as I support the Bill on behalf of the Opposition, that the power will be used only in extreme cases.
§ Mr. Greenway
I am not entirely sure that we are talking about the surrender of passports; it is more a matter of handing them in for a few days and getting them back when the match is over.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me, so that I can explain that there is one hell of a difference between surrender and confiscation. Surrender is when someone voluntarily says, "Here is my navy blue British passport," and hands it in. Confiscation is when the passport is snatched from someone, which is wholly unconstitutional.
§ Mr. Greenway
I shall not even attempt to answer that intervention because what my hon. Friend says is complete nonsense. We are talking about people being required to surrender their passports for a few days, but such a measure should not be introduced lightly. I do not believe that the courts would do so in any event. The key question is not one of confiscation or surrender; it is of where we strike a balance. That is the issue that the House is asked to confront in my hon. Friend's Bill.
I commented earlier that, in debating this issue today, we are not in what one might term knee-jerk reaction mode, responding to some awful event a few days ago. That is a distinct advantage. We are in a position to make a hard-headed assessment of what more we should do. We must accept that experience tells us that the scenes of violence that we have seen before will be repeated. Sadly, no one will be surprised when they are. Moreover, we can anticipate with certainty that the public will then rightly ask why more was not done by the authorities, by the Government and by Parliament to prevent known hooligans from travelling abroad, or to obstruct the activities of those known by the police to be hellbent on causing trouble in a foreign land, inciting others to violence and to criminal damage.
As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford, when it comes to civil liberties, we must also consider the liberties and rights of those who will otherwise be the victims of the thuggery and wanton vandalism that some are intent on causing, not just at home but, significantly, abroad as well. Those hooligans have shamed our nation and besmirched our international reputation. Faced with that fact, we must be a little more circumspect about immediately taking the
507 view that civil liberties should override our concerns about those matters. I do not believe that they should. The case for intervention is overwhelming.
We must bear those concerns in mind when we consider the Bill. They will be even more relevant when we consider the proposed amendment that my hon. Friend outlined, which would seek to extend banning orders or restriction orders to some individuals who do not have previous convictions. They may have no previous convictions at all or, more likely, they may have no previous convictions for football-related violent offences. That is an important distinction. Over time, other measures in the Bill, particularly in clause 2, might in part address that problem. I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border that it is a good idea to consider extending the definition of a football-related offence, because more of those people might then be caught.
The question arises—I think that this is the issue that my hon. Friend seeks to address in his amendment—whether the courts should have appropriate powers to restrict individuals' freedom of movement where police intelligence clearly indicates that those targeted are intent on incitement to violence, and whether something more could be done, albeit at the expense of offending our civil liberties sensibilities.
About a year ago, during the Report stage of what became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) and my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Sir B. Mawhinney), in response to what happened in France, made proposals for football behaviour orders. The concept behind such orders is clear in the anti-social behaviour orders provided for in the Act. There may be a case, if individuals are known to be likely to cause trouble to others, for establishing a football behaviour order which, like the anti-social behaviour order, would not require a previous conviction.
In the past few days, the Home Secretary has responded to that proposal in a letter to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler), in which he set out the extent to which the Government have reviewed the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford will be aware of the outcome of those deliberations. That has led him to conclude—at short notice and without being able to consult some of the Bill's sponsors—that it may be possible to include such a proposal in this Bill, which represents the only legislative opportunity for doing something to tackle the problem.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for recognising in his letter that the Opposition will need time to reflect on the possibility, and for suggesting that the Under-Secretary and I—and our colleagues—discuss how to proceed. We shall certainly do so.
My instincts are that we ought to be able to find a framework that strikes the right balance, although that is by no means a certainty. After Bergkamp's missed 508 penalty, it is clear that nothing is certain in football, so why should we expect certainty in the legislation that we propose to deal with hooliganism?
§ Mr. Greenway
It certainly was. However, my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) made an important point when he said that other solutions are possible, and I think that he is right.
I say to those of my hon. Friends who have doubts about the Bill that the House has a duty to find a way to deal with the problem. They need to keep it in mind that we are not talking about trying to prevent something that is unlikely to happen. Experience tells us that the problems of violent behaviour with which we are all too familiar will happen again. The police and the football authorities know that, and they know who the perpetrators will be. The 2000 European championship tournament is coming up, and Britain is keen to host the 2006 world cup.
I hope that that world cup competition is held here, but for many years the House used to tell the football authorities to put their house in order. They have done so, and now their encouragement of action by this House is part of their responsible response to the problem. We should support the football authorities in return.
In conclusion, the most frightening aspect of the further trouble that we can anticipate is that the men of violence know that such further trouble will take place. The question for the House is how we stop them. More can and should be done, and the measures in the Bill genuinely seek to achieve that. The House should support it.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Kate Hoey)
I am grateful for the opportunity to give the Government's response to this private Member's Bill, which the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) presented to the House for Second Reading. I congratulate him not merely on winning the ballot, but on his choice of Bill. Also, like the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones), I pay tribute to the reasoned and articulate way in which he presented what, to some people, is a complicated Bill.
Ten years ago this year, on 27 June 1989, during the passage of the Football Spectators Bill, I made my maiden speech—I share with the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) the way I voted on that Bill. I started off then by expressing my passion, and that of millions of others, for football. I am happy to say that a decade later my enthusiasm has not diminished and I still share it with many millions of people. I also share the hon. Gentleman's distress at Wednesday night's result—the two Front-Bench speakers are both Arsenal supporters.
I am pleased that, as the hon. Member for West Chelmsford indicated, the proposals in the Bill are targeted at the small minority of so-called supporters who cause trouble. I welcome the fact that the overriding aim of the Bill is to look after and protect the interests of the decent, law-abiding supporter. In this era of multi-million pound transfers, massive salaries, huge television deals and worldwide audiences for the sport, we must not forget—and, most importantly, those running football 509 must not forget—that football supporters remain the greatest asset that the professional game has. It is their interests, safety and security that must remain paramount to all those involved in every aspect of the sport.
With those sentiments in mind, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary launched a public consultation exercise last November to consider measures to deal with football hooliganism. The exercise sought comments on the 29 recommendations contained in the "Review of Football-Related Legislation", which was issued by officials. The report provided a useful platform for discussion and was issued to those involved in football at all levels, the policing authorities and the wider community. It gave an opportunity to influence the direction of Government policy through constructive criticism and support.
Respondents to the exercise—all the responses are in the Library—welcomed the opportunity that the consultation exercise provided. The need for change was recognised by almost every respondent to the public consultation exercise because football, like almost everything else in the past decade, has moved on. Football hooliganism is no different —it has moved on, too. As many hon. Members have said, trouble in and around the ground is almost a thing of the past, save for a few isolated incidents. We have achieved that through a number of successful measures—all-seater stadiums, closed circuit television and more effective policing and stewarding. We should also recognise the effect of legislation that was introduced and supported by all parties in the early 1990s to help combat hooliganism.
However, hooliganism has not gone away and around 4,000 arrests each year are connected with the domestic game of football. I shall put that in context because the Bill has come into being because people have listened to what has been said. As the hon. Member for Ryedale rightly said, it is not a knee-jerk reaction.
§ Mr. Forth
Does the Minister accept that one must always be cautious when interpreting responses to consultation? The likelihood is that those respondents who tend to agree with what is being proposed and who have a particular interest write in to express their support. However, it is the responsibility of the House to consider the wider interests and views, particularly of those whom I am fond of calling the silent majority.
§ Kate Hoey
Of course, the results of consultation depend very much on the way in which it is directed at the public. I am sure that it did not have a major effect, but I wrote an article in every Premier and league club programme in the country—and got reactions, too. People who are against legislation are more likely to come forward during consultation. There were some criticisms in the consultation, and the hon. Member for West Chelmsford took account of them. For example, the alcohol ban was not included prescriptively but as a subject for consultation. He examined the results of the consultation and chose not to put that in the Bill. We support that decision.
On the international front, no one wants a repeat of the shameful scenes in Marseilles during France 98. Sadly, those images were beamed around the world and further fuelled the perception that all England supporters are violent thugs with no respect for others or their property.
510 I say again that many thousands of decent, law-abiding supporters follow England, and the Bill is in those law-abiding supporters' interest because their enjoyment is also ruined by the destructive and selfish actions of a small but disproportionately high-profile minority. We must act to protect the interests of law-abiding fans and promote the fact that supporters from this country can be as well behaved at matches played outside England and Wales as at domestic matches. That can be achieved only by partnership between supporters, the football authorities, the police and the Government. We started that process rolling by drawing up our action plan for France 98. We continued it through public consultation and are committed to ensuring an inclusive approach to make football matches safe and secure for those who wish to enjoy football and its unique atmosphere.
I said that hooliganism had not gone away. Those committed to breaking the law and using football as a platform for their activities know that violence or trouble inside grounds is likely to be prevented from happening and that when it occurs, it will be swiftly nipped in the bud. Hooligan behaviour is now more likely to occur some distance from the stadium, often some time before or after a match. The Bill would allow courts to make orders preventing attendance at matches on conviction for football-related offences committed within 24 hours, rather than the one or two hours in current legislation. I am pleased that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford spent some time with police intelligence officers, as I have. I pay tribute to their work across the country.
The measures will help to address the problems faced by the police, prosecutors and courts in obtaining orders against those who commit football-related offences away from grounds. More importantly, the extended relevant period will give courts the power to consider issuing banning orders against those convicted overseas of football-related offences, which often occur days before or after matches in international competition.
The Bill will strengthen existing powers and send a strong preventive message to discourage those who think that they are outside the banning order process. The process is further strengthened by the proposal to allow the courts to place conditions on the issue of a banning order and to require persons subject to an international football banning order to report to named police stations rather than anywhere they choose. Often, when they have reported, they travel overseas and attend the match even though the law has said that they should not. It is essential to stop that happening. The condition of submitting passports in advance of a requirement to report enforces our determination to ensure that such persons uphold the decision of the court. No hon. Member wants court decisions to be flagrantly abused. This is a way to stop that. It has been done before, and I think that it strikes the right balance between the civil liberties of those involved in violence and those of the rest of the country.
There are some 113 restriction orders and almost 450 exclusion orders. Before December 1997, there were nine restriction orders. The figure has substantially increased over the past year, following the Home Secretary's initiative to remind the police, prosecutors and courts of the powers available under existing legislation. However, as has been said, with about 4,000 arrests in England and Wales in all football competitions, the ratio of arrests to banning orders remains low. I have highlighted the difficulties of the court being able to issue orders because 511 of the time restrictions. There is a further restriction in that the court is required to be satisfied that to make such an order would help to prevent violence or disorder at a designated match. That is a high threshold for the court to consider. We fully support the proposal, which is set out in the Bill, that it should be replaced by the court being required to have reasonable grounds to believe that it would help to prevent violence or disorder at designated matches played outside England and Wales.
The low ratio of arrests to the issue of orders is also a reflection on the number of convictions that are achieved and, subsequently, the number of applications that are made for the issue of banning orders. As for the latter, the Bill sensibly proposes that the court be required to issue an order in all cases where a person is convicted of a football-related offence and there is sufficient evidence that to do so would help to prevent future violence or disorder at matches.
There is no doubt that the police are aware that certain individuals—a small but important number—are involved either in the planning of or participation in violent or hooligan activity in connection with football matches. Present legislation does not provide —it is not proposed in the Bill, although the hon. Member for West Chelmsford has mentioned that he is considering introducing an amendment in Committee—an ability to deal with known hooligans without conviction for a football-related offence.
As has been said by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, such a measure is not without its difficulties and may have implications in terms of civil liberties and of compromising intelligence sources. There are a number of issues that the Government wish to consider further, and it is clear that we shall have to work with the hon. Gentleman and take advice before we reach conclusions about whether we could support and wish to bring forward a further restriction.
I am pleased that the Bill makes provision for changes to the present law on indecent and racist chanting at football matches. Such offences are particularly nasty and objectionable. Racism of any description should not be tolerated in a civilised society. The Bill is an important step towards achieving that objective.
The actions of a small minority bring particular problems to football. The measures set out in the Bill are necessary to deal with the difficulties and to give a strong message that hooliganism will not be tolerated. We must place the problem in context. It is right, as some hon. Members have said, that more than 26 million people attended football cup and league matches last season in England and Wales, and that there were just over 4,000 arrests. However, the actions of a very small minority grab the headlines and tarnish our international reputation. The perception of violence and hooliganism impacts on how all of us are viewed as football supporters. That is crucial. We cannot have a situation where supporters of Manchester United or Arsenal go abroad to watch a match, as has happened recently, and find that they are all treated as if they are there only to cause trouble and to create violence. We cannot allow that to happen.
In my responsibility for European co-ordination in the Home Office, I am happy to talk to my Italian and French counterparts. However, we must be able to show that we 512 have done everything that we can to ensure that the small minority will not be allowed to travel to matches. Decent supporters want to be treated properly and as human beings. They do not wish it to be thought that all of them are out to create violence.
The Football Supporters Association supports what we are saying about ticket touting. It is keen that action should be taken. We do not want to see again the situation that happened at the last world cup—where thousands of fans were swindled out of their money by agencies being set up that do not have the tickets in the first place. This is not just a Home Office matter, but it is something that the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry and my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport should discuss. That does not come within the Bill, but I know that it is something that supporters want us to take up. I shall write to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) on the number of arrests and convictions for ticket touting offences. I understand that there have been about 300.
We are a sporting nation and can be justifiably proud of the high quality of sport that our country attracts; for example, this year, the finals of the cricket world cup and the rugby world cup will be held here. I met the organisers of both tournaments recently, and was pleased with the work that they are doing to ensure the success of their respective competitions. That success will reflect on this nation and on our ability to host successfully major international tournaments.
We should not forget that England is the home of football and that our grounds are now the finest in the world. During Euro 96, we proved that we could organise and host successful, friendly and trouble-free matches where there was a great atmosphere. Football is thriving in England and attracts players from all over the world. At present, it is the place where top stars want to play and that supporters want to visit. It is of course the perfect setting for the world cup—football's greatest tournament. I pay tribute to the work being done by my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport and all those who are uniting around the attempt for a successful bid. However, even if we were not bidding for the world cup, and even if we do not win that bid, the legislation introduced by my hon. Friend, or rather the hon. Member for West Chelmsford—he is not quite my hon. Friend, although we have been talking to each other a great deal recently—is still necessary. The measure is not merely about our attempt to host the world cup—much as we should like it to be held in England—it is necessary because of the increase in travel to competitions in Europe.
We must continue to build on those partnerships that we have already developed between supporters, football authorities, the police and our European partners to make football matches safe and secure environments. I know that many hon. Members want to speak, but I do want to pay tribute to the Football Supporters Association and the work undertaken by its members during the world cup in France. The football embassies that they ran were of great use and support to fans. We want to work with the association to create a proper environment of support for our travelling fans. It is a partnership, and a working relationship with supporters is crucial.
As I mentioned, I have worked closely with the hon. Member for West Chelmsford and have made available to him the results of the public consultation exercise. I genuinely appreciate the level of co-operation that exists 513 and hope that it will continue. All Members of the House are united in our desire to combat football hooliganism, although there may be differences in the methods by which we want to achieve it. The Bill proposes a range of positive, balanced measures targeted at the football hooligan, but it is also aimed at maintaining and improving the safety and security of the decent law-abiding supporter. Football is enjoyed by millions in this country. The Government fully support the Bill and are aware that it acknowledges the concerns of the police, the football authorities and the supporters.
In my view and that of the Home Office, the provisions of the Bill are compatible with the European convention on human rights. The response of the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs—an important organisation—stated:The proposals are positive and largely acceptable. To those who might argue that such legislation would unduly restrict the civil liberty of miscreants, we would respond that it is time the civil liberty of the well behaved supporter was better protected than it is at present.Everybody in football must do more—and when I say everybody, I mean the players and the managers. Legislation can be only part of the solution; it cannot solve the whole problem. However, I recommend all hon. Members to give the Bill a Second Reading. I believe that it is a step forward and hope that it will receive a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield)
I, too, congratulate my hon. and good Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on winning sixth place in the ballot and on proposing this law and order measure. However, I have some doubts about the passport confiscation measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) may be unaware of the difference in meaning between confiscation and surrender, but others of my hon. Friends are not so confused. I have concerns about that matter, but not about others.
To put the whole issue in context, I point out that, terrible though football hooliganism is, it goes back as far as the 14th century. With the indulgence of the House, I shall quote from a proclamation made in 1314 by Edward II. The proclamation declared:Forasmuch there is great noise in the city caused by hustling over large balls, from which many evils may arise, which God forbid, we command and forbid on behalf of the King, on pain of imprisonment, such game to be used in the city in the future.As has been said, more recent events have brought home the need for this legislation. This is the 10th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster, but before that there was the Ibrox tragedy in 1971 and the Heysel stadium disaster in 1985.
I welcome the Bill as it deals with racist chanting and attempts to exclude troublemakers from football matches. I also welcome the efforts to impose law and order and prevent disorder. However, there remains the question of civil rights, which has been raised by the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike), for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms Walley), and my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) and many others of my Back-Bench hon. Friends, who all spoke about the confiscation of passports from the unconvicted.
514 Before I became a Member of Parliament, I had radio station companies as clients, and one of those was Radio Moscow. In the 1980s, I travelled frequently to the Soviet Union—in fact I am convinced that the many Soviet Union stamps in my passport mean that, if there is not a large file on me in the Whips Office, there is certainly one at MI5. A look from the Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins), tells me that the file in the Whips Office is somewhat larger than the one at MI5. I am conscious that one of the ways of controlling people in the former Soviet Union was through either the non-issue or the confiscation of passports. I am sorry to pick on my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale, who prefers the term "surrender", but I have to point out that that word implies that the action is voluntary.
§ Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North)
Can the hon. Gentleman explain how, when soldiers in battle put up their hands and, at gunpoint, walk towards the enemy, that can be considered a voluntary action?
§ Mr. Fabricant
That is a completely irrelevant intervention, but I shall answer it. They can either volunteer to surrender, or lower their arms and get shot, but the point is that the decision whether to surrender is up to them. If a passport is confiscated, it is not a decision left up to the person from whom it is confiscated—confiscation is compulsion. One is not compelled to surrender, whether it is one's passport or one's person. The hon. Gentleman might be an opera singer, but it is clear that he has never served in the armed forces and does not know what the devil he is talking about.
§ Mr. Caplin
Can the hon. Gentleman point me to the part of the Bill where the question of confiscation arises? His speech so far has related more to comments made by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) about what changes he might want to introduce in Committee than to the Bill whose Second Reading we are considering today. If I am wrong, I will happily accept any direction to the correct part of the Bill.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman is not wrong—in fact, he is quite right. However, on Second Reading we discuss not only the Bill, but those issues that might form part of the Committee stage. The promoter of the Bill has stated that the provisions to which I refer will be tabled in Committee. In an attempt to be helpful, I am inclined to say, although I have slight concerns, that I have no major objections to the Bill as it stands and I shall not vote against Second Reading. However, I would not welcome the amendment that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford described and I do not want the Home Office to take that line, for that would be to cross the rubicon.
§ Mr. Forth
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but I think that the situation is worse than he suggests. I can reply to the question asked by the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin). Clauses 3(5A) and 3(5B) of the Bill use weasel words. Clause 3(5A) states:The court may, if it thinks fit, impose conditions in the order which the person subject to the order shall comply with.515 That sentence ends with a preposition: I wish that legalese were more old-fashioned grammatical. The legislation continues:Those conditions may include… surrender of the passport".Although the word "surrender" is used, it is prefaced by the phrase "impose conditions". So those who are hiding behind the word "surrender" are being less than honest.
§ Mr. Fabricant
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that concern must be addressed in Committee. Many clauses of the Bill have been drafted badly. I am not surprised to learn that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford has received assistance from the Home Office, which is notorious for badly drafted legislation that consistently does not meet the exacting standards that we expect of Departments.
One of the great principles of United Kingdom law is not only habeas corpus but the fact that one is innocent until proven guilty. Only two years ago, one of my constituents was detained for 11 weeks by the French police in Boulogne. He was held without charge and was not allowed to see his relatives or a lawyer. That could not happen in the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand where English law reigns supreme. My constituent was finally released without any apology from the French officials and without having been charged with any crime. That is heinous.
I am concerned that, if we are not careful about the wording of this Bill, someone who has not been charged with any crime will have his or her passport confiscated. We must never forget that, despite the European Union and Napoleonic law—which, thank God, we have not had to adopt in this country so far—one is innocent until proven guilty in the United Kingdom. In France—the country nearest to our borders—one is considered guilty until proven innocent. That is a fundamental difference. We must not allow the Bill to encroach on that right, no matter how well meaning this legislation may seem.
We all take for granted the words on the inside cover of our passports—I have a dark blue passport, not one of the little red abortions that are now in general issue—which read:Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.They are important words because they allow freedom of travel. Returning to my days in the Soviet Union, few people there had external passports—and they were confiscated if people said anything that the state did not like. I suspect that many hon. Members may not be aware that citizens of the Soviet Union also needed internal passports to travel from one oblast—or region—to another.
§ Mr. Forth
I hope that before my hon. Friend concludes his remarks—which I am finding instructive and fascinating—he will tell us something of his experiences of surveillance in the Soviet Union. The Bill's sponsor, my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns), said earlier with pride that he believed that existing surveillance in this country would 516 be sufficient to allow us to finger people who had not been convicted of any offence. I hope that my hon. Friend will reflect on that point in his remarks.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I shall deal with that matter now. My right hon. Friend is correct to raise that point. I do not like to attack my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale, who referred to photographs of people committing crimes in Marseilles and Toulon. No hon. Member condones loutish behaviour by British citizens at football matches or any other sporting event at home or abroad. However, photos can be, and occasionally are, taken out of context. I gave the example of my friend who, in Toulon, picked up a table to protect himself from rioters. If he had been caught on film and if members of NCIS had seen it, they might have said, "It is time to take away his passport. He has no conviction, but we have a picture of him picking up a table."
I repeat that in this country one is innocent until one is proven guilty. It is all very well for hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale, to say that it is right to require people to surrender their passports for a few days, but a passport gives one freedom of travel, and that is one of our great constitutional rights. No hon. Member should ever forget either the principle that people are innocent until they are proven guilty, or the right to freedom of travel. To confiscate a passport is a great step.
My hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford said in his rational and calm way that there is a precedent for that provision—the treatment of people on bail. However, that is not a precedent for the provision that we are debating because people on bail have been charged with an offence. They have not been proved guilty and the case has not yet gone to court, but they will at least have been arrested and charged with an offence. We are considering the confiscation of the passports of people who have not even been charged with an offence, let alone found guilty.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Yes, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman will make a more sensible point than he did earlier.
§ Mr. Gardiner
I intervened not to make known my honourable record in the Royal Anglian Regiment, but to challenge the hon. Gentleman on the point about passports. I understand that passports are the property of Her Majesty's Government rather than of the individual. They are, therefore, subject to be withdrawn by Her Majesty's Government at any time for any reason.
§ Mr. Fabricant
The hon. Gentleman is right. The inside back cover of the passport makes that very point. What is he advocating? Football hooliganism aside, is the hon. Gentleman, who is now giggling, saying that it is absolutely right that if I wanted to go to America to give a talk on—
§ Mr. Fabricant
If I wanted to give a talk about civil liberties or about the Labour Government, who are full of good intentions but are unable to fulfil any of them, would it be right for the Under-Secretary of State for 517 the Home Department, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), to say to me, "I don't like the sound of that. That is the Government's passport and I am confiscating it."? Of course, she would not dream of doing that because it would be unconstitutional and, more to the point, it would be wrong. If the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner) is saying that the passport can be freely confiscated by the Government merely because it is their property, I am astonished.
§ Mr. Maclean
I was astonished to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Brent, North (Mr. Gardiner). Of course, passports are technically the Government's property and can, theoretically, be withdrawn at any time. However, we are all subject to be arrested at any time if we have committed offences, and like the power of arrest, the power to confiscate passports should not be arbitrarily exercised by an officer of the state unless there are exceptionally good reasons.
§ Mr. Fabricant
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. In an earlier intervention, he referred to the numbers of people who have been convicted of football offences committed at stadiums. I congratulate the police and football clubs for reducing the numbers of people who are convicted of such offences. I put on the record the fact that in 1984–85, there were 40 arrests at football stadiums per 100,000 attendances. Incidentally, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) made a point about the bad grammar of the clauses—how nice it is when hon. Members on both sides of the House say stadia and not stadiums.
The number of offences fell from 40 in 1984-85 to 13 in 1997-98. It is all very well for hon. Members on both sides of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford to say that, therefore, more offences are now committed outside the stadium, but it is worth noting that even if football offences comprise 0.1 of 1 per cent. of all crimes of violence, and 10 times as many are committed outside the stadium, the overall figure is still only 1 per cent. Although 1 per cent. is still too much and my hon. Friend is therefore right to promote the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) was also right to make the point that we must put the matter into context. It would be very easy for us to get crime and disorder at football matches out of all proportion.
It is also worth mentioning that the French have introduced emergency security measures to allow suspected trouble-makers to be expelled from France before being convicted of offences, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale said. He said that as there would not be a conviction, passports should be confiscated—
§ Mr. Fabricant
Surrendered, to use my hon. Friend's word. I wonder whether—perhaps the Minister will respond to this—the criminal law could be changed so that if British citizens commit a crime beyond British territory and are not convicted in the country in which the crime is committed, they could be arrested, charged and prosecuted in the United Kingdom for the crime. I make that point because it would get round the argument, which 518 has been made from both Front Benches, that passports could be surrendered, or confiscated, even if there is not a conviction—a step far too far.
Clause 1(1) implies that passports should be confiscated. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, that could be done on reasonable grounds, providing the court is satisfied. I always think that the questions of reasonableness and satisfaction in Bills are too loose and leave too much to the discretion of courts and, far more dangerously, of Ministers. If the Bill goes into Committee, as I suspect it will, that issue must be addressed. We want a fair and constitutional Bill, which does not encroach on the freedom to travel and the rights of individuals, regardless of whether we think that they might be football hooligans. We must preserve the right that one is innocent until proven guilty.
Another problem with the Bill, which has not been mentioned, is that it could be subject to judicial review. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford will address that problem when he winds up the debate.
The question of ticket touting has been debated at some length. I should mention that I am joint chairman of the all-party internet group. If anybody has any grand ideas that we can control the sale of tickets—or anything—on the internet, they should forget it. The internet cannot be policed. We cannot legislate, for example, for the sale of books from Amazon.com or the purchase of half-price compact discs from Tower Records in New York, which, incidentally, possibly evades Customs and Excise duty. Believe me, if Customs and Excise cannot legislate, the Home Office certainly cannot legislate on this matter. Therefore, if any members of the Standing Committee have any idea that the Committee can restrict ticket touting through the internet, they should not waste the Committee's time.
§ Mr. Forth
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point—which I had hoped to mention if I caught your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although I fear that time may not now allow it — does he agree that the word "touting" is too loosely used, and has been today? Unless one is prepared to consider the method of sale of tickets; the origin; those who are buying them and for what purpose; and, more important, the various ways in which tickets can be resold outside the ground, through the Royal Mail or on the internet; and then take serious action, it is likely that the spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise that is sometimes called touting cannot sensibly and properly be tackled.
§ Mr. Fabricant
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am aware of the arguments of the Bill's promoter, who rightly says that, if ticket touting takes place outside stadiums and people turn up on spec and are disappointed because they cannot buy tickets, that leads to hooliganism. He says that touting should be controlled. I have some sympathy with that argument. On the other hand, I do not want the Bill to remove the rights of the individual to free travel and to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. I also do not want the Bill to become too much in
519 control of the freedom of enterprise that the Conservative party—and perhaps of late, half-heartedly, the Labour party—is promoting.
§ Mr. Fabricant
Simply because one could argue that the touting of tickets—that is, the purchase of tickets on a speculative basis and their sale for a higher price—is free enterprise.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I did so because, at the time, we were not discussing the withdrawal of passports. Incidentally, the Bill did not work, because ticket touting continues. I shall not venture into this area for too long, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it would be out of order, but many hon. Members voted for the age of homosexual consent to be 16 not only because—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)
Order. The hon. Gentleman is already straying too far. During his speech, he has trodden the same ground more than once. I hope that he will not do so again.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I am reaching my conclusion anyway, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
I am arguing that any law that cannot be enforced is a bad law per se. The ticket touting law has obviously not been enforced, and it was a bad law. If I voted for it—and I did —I made a mistake, and I admit it. Will my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford admit that he made a mistake if he voted with me?
§ Mr. Fabricant
He will not. All right.
I generally support the good intentions of the Bill, although "good intentions" is often an epitaph, and certainly something that I would not like to see on my tombstone.
I must ask at least five questions of my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford, because a worthless Bill is a waste of the time of the House. First, will the Bill be workable? Secondly, is it right for passports to be confiscated from individuals who have not only not been convicted of any offence, but have not even been charged with any offence? Thirdly, will the Bill be subject to judicial review? Before my hon. Friend says no, I should tell him that the Library considers that it could be.
Fourthly, will the Bill be in breach of European Union directives? Council directive 73/1148, which no one has mentioned, suggests that it probably would be. Fifthly, does the Bill meet all the tests in fairness and decency for which this country is renowned? As the Bill stands, the answer is a resounding no.
§ 1.5 pm
§ Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth)
I regret some of the comments by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant), especially on ticket touting. Does he feel no sympathy for those supporters who support a team all year, but find—when their team gains some measure of success —that their access to tickets is completely denied because of poor ticket distribution and corporate entertainment? I have seen that happen at football matches and— increasingly, recently—at rugby internationals.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) pointed out, we should not be controlling the touts, but those who sell the tickets in the first place.
§ Mr. Edwards
The hon. Gentleman did refer to ticket touting as "free enterprise"—as if it were fair trade.
I congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on proposing the Bill. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), and I acknowledge the great deal of work that he has done in the past to support football. However, I did not agree with his criticism of the way in which the Bill has been produced. If it is a good Bill, it can be introduced by anyone in this House. If it is worthy of cross-party support, we should try to get it through this place as soon as possible.
Clearly, there are reservations among Opposition Members about a proposed clause that is not yet in the Bill. In addition, if bans are to be imposed or passports are to be withdrawn from people on suspicion, the human rights implications of that must be considered. My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde suggested that if such a ban were imposed, some innocent people might be disadvantaged. Of course, everyone is innocent until convicted, and a serious precedent could be established if that proposal is not looked at carefully.
I have followed football a great deal, although I do not get the opportunity at the moment to go to matches as much as some of my colleagues. In my constituency, there is not a club that anyone could think of which I could go to regularly, where people pay to attend. In my constituency, there is the Abergavenny Thursdays club, which charges admission at the gate. It plays in the Gwent league, having been in the Konica Welsh league—or the comical league of Wales, as some call it—a couple of years ago. The team gets more publicity in the local papers than I do, but I do not see it play as much as I should.
I have been a football supporter at various levels. As a young boy, I supported my local amateur side, Tooting and Mitcham. That is why I was able to intervene on my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) on the subject of the Isthmian league. I could spend time talking about some giant-killing matches; most notably against Nottingham Forest in 1958, when I was a young boy. Throughout all levels of football, there is a tremendous latent support. At every level, people are embarrassed by the violence and aggression associated with a small number of people.
I have also followed Manchester United. When I lived in Manchester for six years, I went to home matches. Like many other Manchester United supporters, I see the 521 occasional game; I go to maybe one or two a year now, at home and away. I have stood on the terraces and felt intimidated, if not particularly frightened, during certain games. I have seen violence at matches and found it distasteful. I would add that the great majority of supporters do not wish to be tarnished with the reputation of being hooligans.
Reference has been made today to the Hillsborough disaster. What a terrible disaster that was; but how awful it was that some newspapers afterwards—I can think of one in particular —castigated some of the victims as if they were thugs, yobs and hooligans. They were totally innocent citizens caught up in a major diaster.
I remember going on a football special train about 10 years ago from Manchester to Liverpool. I had no car at the time, and that was the easiest way to get there. I went after work, wearing a suit, and I recall being abused by police officers on the train when not one person on it had done anything wrong. Those people were castigated as hooligans simply for being associated with Manchester.
At times I have been concerned for police officers who have had to be in the middle of violence at football matches. I have felt great sympathy for them. I have seen violence at matches in the lower levels of the league. On Sunday there will be a local derby between Swansea and Cardiff. Unfortunately, that game has in the past been associated with violence. I sincerely hope that there will not be violence on Sunday and that both clubs will be promoted from the third division by the end of the season.
There has been a rebuilding of football in recent years. Much of the violence associated with football has been greatly diminished. The right hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) gave statistics on the decline in the number of offences committed at football matches and we all welcome that. We seem to love to believe that violence is perpetually getting worse, but there are certain areas in which that is not the case, and this is clearly one of them.
I want to speak on behalf of the genuine football supporters who have been castigated in various ways. I was at the rugby international at Wembley on Sunday, and I felt that fans were being totally ripped off. A small bottle of beer cost £2.30—more than £5 a pint—which is ridiculous. We need to consider how to improve matters.
The rebuilding of football grounds, the requirement to have all-seater stadiums in the higher divisions, the improved marketing of football and the introduction of closed circuit television have led to increasing attendances, with more women and children at matches. That is very welcome. The reduction in violence will have attracted people and we want them to keep coming to football, so that ordinary people will not find the atmosphere intimidating.
The hon. Member for North Thanet (Mr. Gale) made an interesting point when he spoke honestly about the prejudice that he had towards football, as a supporter of rugby and cricket. To his credit, he described how his son's enthusiasm for football changed the way in which he thought about it.
Football has reflected many of the social divisions in our society. I went to a school where we played only football. I would have loved to have played rugby. Why could not I have gone to a school where both football and rugby were played? I did not take up rugby until about two years ago—I may be the oldest person to have taken it up—and I still enjoy playing football.
522 There have been social divisions and snobbery about sport in this country, and that must be part of the context in which we consider the Bill. Wembley stadium is about to be rebuilt. Twickenham is a wonderful stadium and I would love soccer matches to be played there, as they are at Cardiff Arms Park. We heard a lot of nonsense in Wales about how it would be sacrilegious to play soccer at Cardiff Arms Park, but some of the Welsh soccer team's recent successes have been there, and I hope that the team will continue to do well and qualify for the next European tournament. We need to get away from the snobbery that forms some of the social context of football.
Football supporters are not violent, although violent people are attracted to and associate themselves with football. They use the loyalties and rivalries traditionally associated with football at the local, regional and international level as a justification for violence and aggression. Football supporters do not deserve to have their reputation tarnished by the activities of a small minority, and no one should be deterred by violent people from attending football matches.
Those who support our national teams—our whole nation—do not deserve to be embarrassed by the activities of violent supporters overseas. The wealth of resources at the highest level of the game has brought many overseas players into British football. The football-playing community in the Premiership has become truly multicultural but, unfortunately, those who attend football matches do not seem to reflect our multicultural society. If that is the result of offensive racism that is still apparent, it is to be deplored, and I therefore welcome clause 9, which would make racist or indecent chanting by an individual an offence. Racism must be outlawed in all areas of our society, so we should all welcome that clause.
There can be little doubt that the events involving a small minority of supporters in France damaged our national reputation. Those who commit acts of violence associated with football both at home and abroad must be made aware that such behaviour will not be tolerated, and they should not be allowed to attend matches. I therefore welcome the provisions in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 concerning international banning orders, and the provision for six months' imprisonment for breaches of those orders.
We must all welcome the scope for banning for six to 10 years those who are convicted. That shows the Government's commitment to be tough on football violence and tough on the causes of football violence. I also support the clauses that extend banning orders to 24 hours. As the hon. Member for West Chelmsford said, that measure is badly needed, and it is eminently reasonable that it should be introduced.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing time to introduce the Bill, and also those on both sides of the House who support it. The Bill is supported by the organisations most closely connected with football—the police and the Football Trust. It also has the support of British people, and I believe that it deserves the support of the House.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough)
There is only one point that I wish to make, and it is about the fact that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) said that, in Committee, he will introduce a provision
523 whereby people who are as yet unconvicted of hooliganism, but whom the court has reasonable grounds to suspect may be a danger to the public, will have to surrender their passports.
I want to talk about that because of my experience not only as a practising barrister and Member of Parliament but as one of those who sat through the passage of what became the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Two precedents have been adduced in favour of the concept of ordering people as yet unconvicted to surrender their passports. The first relates to bail—a point that has already been adequately dealt with. If one is ordered to surrender one's passport while on bail, one must already have been charged with a criminal offence. I should add that, under the Bail Acts, there is an injunction on courts to grant bail except in the most serious cases.
The point about bail has therefore already been dealt with, but I am delighted to see that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford, after a brief absence, has returned to the Chamber, because I am about to talk about my experience during the passage of the Crime and Disorder Act, which set the precedent.
During the passage of the Bill, Conservative Members, perhaps surprisingly, raised many concerns about the civil liberties implications of the anti-social behaviour orders, which the orders that we are talking about today will probably resemble. Labour Members had a bit of fun by asking why 1 was following the line of Liberty, because they would not have expected somebody with my past to support that organisation. However, if Liberty has a good case, of course I will support it—and I am concerned about civil liberties.
Why are we worried? The problems that the Crime and Disorder Act and the Bill before us are intended to deal with are similar. On some council estates, there are families from hell who make people's lives a problem, and it is difficult to prosecute them, difficult to make a charge stick beyond reasonable doubt, and difficult to get witnesses. The same will be true of football hooliganism, which I must quickly add is a curse on society. None of us wants to stop football hooligans being dealt with expeditiously and properly. That is why I am sure that my hon. Friend was right to introduce the Bill.
We have a problem. How should we deal with football hooligans? The Government came up with a response in the Crime and Disorder Act and are now supporting this Bill, which offers the same response: because those matters cannot be proved in a court of law, another procedure must be introduced. The Bill says that an international banning order can be made if the courtis satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to believe that making the order would help to prevent violence or disorder at or in connection with designated football matches.What worries me about that is the level of proof. Our system of justice is clear: if one is to be convicted of an offence, the state brings the case and must prove that one is guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Under the Bill, the authorities must have reasonable grounds for believing that somebody may cause trouble abroad and will have to prove that on the civil balance of proof, not the criminal balance of proof. They will not have to prove those matters beyond reasonable doubt.
When we raised those concerns during our debates on the Crime and Disorder Bill, the response from the then Minister of State at the Home Office, now the Welsh 524 Secretary, was, "I don't know what you're worried about. We had to deal with the tremendous problem of people on council estates and there was no other way in which to do so. We are not talking about a criminal conviction, so why are you so worried? An order will be placed on people; it will result in their having a curfew placed on them, but it is not a criminal conviction. Why, therefore, should matters be proved beyond reasonable doubt? In any case, we are performing a public good."
Various questions need to be asked relating to the civil liberties of the individual concerned. They relate to the burden of proof but also to the fact that, if one disobeys, say, a curfew under the Crime and Disorder Act, or a banning order under this Bill, one will be liable to a criminal conviction. Under the Crime and Disorder Act, that could involve several months in prison. Thus, we could have the extraordinary result that someone ends up in prison having never been convicted of a criminal offence—their only offence would be failing to comply with an order.
Hon. Members will understand, therefore, why I am concerned, on civil liberties grounds, about the surrender of passports for unconvicted people. That may sound a detailed point coming from a lawyer, and people may ask whether we should be worried about it. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford is not trying to replicate what has been done in other countries or what happens in repressive societies, but the fact remains that the mark of a repressive or totalitarian society, or a society not ruled by law, is that the authorities take passports away from people at whim and claim that the individual concerned is a danger to the public. As my hon. Friend reminds us, passports are the property of Her Majesty's Government.
However, passports are never taken away by the Government of this country unless someone is either convicted of a criminal offence or in danger of being so convicted. Under the Bill, someone's passport could be taken away because there are reasonable grounds in the minds of the authorities that that person may cause trouble abroad.
I understand entirely why my hon. Friend is pushing for that, but I urge him earnestly to think the matter through and consider whether it is in the interests of civil liberties. I know that it is an extremely difficult problem. We must balance an individual's natural right to liberty and the danger that he poses to society. I believe that, over the years, we have got that balance about right but, given the provisions of last year's Crime and Disorder Act and the potential provisions of this Bill, that balance may be put out of kilter. That would be dangerous for our traditions.
§ Mr. Ivor Caplin (Hove)
I am pleased to be able to contribute to the debate, as I have been here all morning—unlike the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh), who I thought should have made some apology to the House for coming into the Chamber late and speaking ahead of other hon. Members.
However, I shall begin by congratulating the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his selection of the Bill, and on his presentation of its proposals. A few weeks ago, I drove past Chelmsford on my way to Southend to watch my beloved Brighton and 525 Hove Albion. Afterwards, I wished that I had not watched the match, as my team lost 3:0—one of Southend's rare victories this season—but two things worried me about the game.
I assume that Southend is the closest football league club to the constituency of the hon. Member for West Chelmsford. More than 3,000 Brighton supporters travelled to the match and a small minority, through their actions during the game, brought disrepute on the club and on football. The problems that day were compounded by the fact that, although Southend's stand for visiting fans is all-seater, it retains the old-style fence. The result was that, although the Southend football club authorities wanted fans in that stand to sit down, those people had to stand up because their seats were below the level of the fence. While we should in no way condone the actions of the mindless morons who that day insulted the football club that I support, we must realise that a balance should be struck between the needs of clubs and those of supporters.
I support the Bill, which will help to maintain the great enjoyment that football supporters derive from the game. As has been said, more than 22 million people go to matches each year, and there are relatively few arrests. As I researched my speech, I recalled that, nearly a year ago—on 21 April 1998—I asked a question about the matter. The answer that I received—from the then Minister of State, who is now my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales—stated that 22.8 million people attended matches in 1996-97, excluding cup competition games. The total of only 3,500 arrests was down from the 4,500 of five years earlier, when attendance was only 20 million. Much progress has been made, and I want to pay tribute to all those hon. Members who have contributed to that progress over the years.
When the Bill becomes law, it will give this country one of the best legal frameworks for tackling football-related offences anywhere in the world—an important United Kingdom contribution that will benefit football everywhere. The Bill tightens up some existing laws, and at least begins to recognise that changes are taking place in football, one of the biggest of which is the greater involvement of supporters' groups.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary mentioned the views of the Football Supporters Association and of the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs. The Centre for Football Research carried out a very good survey at the end of the 1996-97 season. It showed that only 5 per cent. of regular supporters—the people who go to watch clubs outside the premiership, such as Brighton and Hove Albion or Cheltenham Town—thought that trouble was increasing in and around grounds. The survey concluded its final chapter on spectator behaviour by stating:These, in short, are not the statistics of a sport still plagued, at the highest level, by hooliganism.It is important to keep in mind, as we debate this subject, that we are dealing with a small minority of people. We must deal with them effectively, as the Bill does, but we must keep the problem in context. There has been a considerable improvement in the stadiums of England and Wales, in particular as a result of action taken since the Taylor report on that horrific day 10 years ago. I think that we all remember exactly where we were when we saw the pictures at 3.5 pm on that day.
526 This week, a fellow Brighton and Hove Albion supporter, Paul Hayward—he is not able to reveal it when he is writing as lead writer for The Daily Telegraph—said, and I must point out that this is a quote so that the hon. Member for Lichfield does not leap up and have a go at me:our stadiums are mostly cathedrals of good policing and common sense. In Italy they still throw coins and bottles on the pitch. If that happened in the Premiership the ground would be closed for three months.That is an indication of how far football and football supporters have come in England, Wales and Scotland.
For many years, I have been particularly concerned about racist chanting, which the Taylor report mentioned. The report recommended that future legislation should contain provisions to enable an individual to be charged for such an offence. Therefore, I am pleased that the Bill will finally, eight or nine years later, bring into being that recommendation. It would give the police stronger powers to act against racist and indecent chanting of the type that the hon. Member for West Chelmsford described.
Football clubs can do much work and there have been some good examples—Charlton Athletic and Leyton Orient in London spring to mind. However, to give my own club a plug —we do not get that many—in December, when the Home Secretary and my hon. Friends first raised the issue, the programme for one of Brighton and Hove Albion's matches contained a statement signed by all the supporters' representatives, the board of directors, management and players, which I sent to my hon. Friend the Minister. It stated:Quite simply, violence, threatening behaviour and racism will not be tolerated by Brighton and Hove Albion… Don't allow anyone to drag our well-deserved reputation through the mud.That is an important contribution that football clubs, supporters, boards of directors and players can make towards ensuring that stadiums and places where we watch football are safe.
I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) has resumed his seat and I am about to say some nice things about the Football Trust, so I am sure that he will be happy. The trust's work has made a great contribution. I was able to say a few words on the matter during the debate on the Budget a few weeks ago when you finally called me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Chancellor allowed the trust more new funding in the Budget, which will be welcome. My call in that debate for the premiership to match that new funding pound for pound has not so far met with great accord among premiership clubs, but I hope that it will do so in time.
The Football Trust has contributed £200 million in the past few years, which is a third of the cost of many projects throughout the country. One area of the trust's work often goes unnoticed—not the main project work, when it contributes to new stands or stadiums, which is important, but the introduction of closed circuit television at football grounds, which makes a big difference to policing and supporter conduct. The introduction of CCTV surveillance equipment has proved to be one of the most important measures in the campaign against hooliganism and has been largely paid for by the trust. It is right that all hon. Members should recognise that fact.
§ Mr. Fabricant
I could not agree more. The hon. Gentleman is right about the value of CCTV. I am sure
527 that he would agree that, when someone is clearly seen committing an offence, he or she should be convicted. Does he further agree that it would be good if British law could be changed so that, if CCTV overseas shows people committing an offence and, for whatever reason, they are not convicted overseas, we could indict them for that offence?
§ Mr. Caplin
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, which he will doubtless pursue in Committee. I shall not be joining him there because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), I am on the Modernisation Committee on Wednesday mornings. My point relates to the Bill as it stands. I think that the hon. Members for Lichfield (Mr. Fabricant) and for Gainsborough have gone way beyond the Bill; those are matters for the Committee.
I regard CCTV as an important step forward. Total grant aid for it from the Football Trust has been £6.5 million, an important contribution. Beyond that, local police authorities have had the opportunity to ask the trust to finance hand-held cameras to allow them to identify in closer detail potential troublemakers in a crowd. I welcome the way in which the trust has accommodated that.
Clause 10 deals with ticket touting, which several hon. Members have said is entrepreneurship at its best. I do not agree. It is illegal. People who get their hands on 50 tickets should not be able to sell them above face value. That is what touting means. It is not entrepreneurship but robbery to sell something valued at £20 for £50. It is a rip-off. Legislation should deal with it as such.
In general, the Bill should have the support of all hon. Members. It is an important step forward from previous legislation. I hope that it will make speedy progress.
§ Mr. Tony McNulty (Harrow, East)
Surprisingly, I rise to speak on the Bill. Given the time, I do not want to go over matters that others have dealt with. I have three quick points. I congratulate the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on his Bill and on the articulate and constructive way in which he introduced it.
On hooliganism, while things have improved, there is a risk—I put it no higher — of complacency and smugness in the football world for reasons that I shall come to later. I support all aspects of the Bill. I will not discuss confiscating passports, but I accept some of the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh). I am sure that the Committee will have a lively discussion. In stadiums and in the immediate vicinity of grounds, the problem has been largely, but not wholly, resolved. While the minority seeking trouble is small, those who have had the misfortune to be caught up in such things know the group hysteria that can carry along many more than those who are there deliberately to provoke trouble.
The problem has moved to town centres and lower division grounds. During Euro 96, I remember visiting the odd west end pub, which is an enjoyable activity. Hours after games in London or elsewhere had finished, there were serious football-related incidents involving those who purport to be football supporters. They occurred in the middle of London, not in the vicinity of the grounds. Not least, there was what happened in Trafalgar square in the wake of England's departure from the contest.
528 I hope that I will be forgiven for being parochial, but my main interest is Wembley. I think that it is agreed that, by and large, there is no longer significant trouble or violence at matches at Wembley. There are not even that many drink-related incidents associated with football grounds. However, four stops along on the Jubilee line from Wembley is Stanmore, which is in my constituency. It is at the end of the Jubilee line. Many coaches, cars and other vehicles that carry football supporters who want to go to games at Wembley stop at Stanmore and take the four stops on the Jubilee line. In some instances the supporters —0this does not apply to every game—cause significant disruption, violence and other associated hooligan activities. In Stanmore town centre, which is two or three miles away from Wembley, there are significant football-related levels of violence, and that should be stopped.
I am pleased that the Bill includes provisions on racist chanting. I have the misfortune or otherwise—currently it is not quite a misfortune—to be a West Ham fan. I remember going to Upton Park during the days in the early 1970s when the first black faces —Clyde Best, Ade Coker and others—appeared in what was then the first division. They were taunted mercilessly. Bananas, racist insults and other taunts were thrown at them. That was entirely unacceptable then, and it remains so now.
A point that has not been raised—it is beyond the scope of the Bill but it is important none the less—is the culture of football and of the coverage of football, which is very important. We should say as a House that the notion that Paul Gascoigne can get away with pretending to play an Orange flute at an old firm game or that Robbie Fowler can sniff the lines on a football pitch to provoke Everton fans in some way is as reprehensible as some of the activity that takes place beyond and around grounds. The players, as well as others, have a serious responsibility in regard to law and order and the prevention of hooliganism at football games.
To echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Caplin), ticket touts are charlatans. They are criminals. The notion that they are cheeky chappies who have the best welfare of football fans at heart but might make a few bob on the side is nonsensical. They should be chased down, not least because of the disciplinary consequences inside a ground when any number of organisations try to get into segregated parts of the stadium. The touts drive a coach and horses through that arrangement in the interests of chasing money.
Football remains a very beautiful game. It excites emotions—it certainly does at West Ham now and then, although perhaps not all the time. There are responsibilities on the House in establishing a legal framework, on those in authority within the game and outside and on the 22 men at any given time at any stadium, who are the real ambassadors of the game.
I wish the Bill fair speed in Committee. I hope that those who serve on the Committee — not me—have an enjoyable time and discuss the Bill thoroughly so that, when it returns to the House for Report and Third Reading, it is strengthened and invigorates the legislation that is already on the statute book, which has been introduced by the present and previous Governments, to ensure that all those who go to football matches can do so without fear for their security or, in some cases, their life. 1 commend the Bill to the House.
§ Mr. David Maclean (Penrith and The Border)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) on being successful in the ballot and bringing forward a large private Member's Bill. However, I must tell him that I have a number of deep concerns about the measure. First, it is a highly complex Bill, and I think that it is beyond our ability to deal with it adequately under the private Members' Bills procedure.
Unlike my hon. Friend, I have no criticism of Home Office draftsmen or women; I suppose I may have had a few years of biased indoctrination. However, part of the problem in the Home Office is that it has to deal with so many different aspects of our life and draft legislation to square the circle.
Like the legislation that was proposed to deal with stalking, this Bill is extremely complex. The stalking Bill tried to mix civil and criminal law; this Bill is complicated because it would amend a large number of pieces of legislation. In the departmental hierarchy for the production of the worst Bills, the Department of the Environment used to be much higher up the league table than the Home Office, but part of the problem in this case is the complexity of the Bill. I consider it to be a main Government programme Bill that we should deal with properly in Government time, rather than using the private Members' procedure.
In respect of action taken over the years to tackle football hooliganism, I am pleased that my hon. Friend mentioned that the previous Government were not idle. A range of actions were taken to tackle the problem, including a great deal of legislation and the establishment of the football intelligence unit within the National Criminal Intelligence Service. I pay tribute to the NCIS for the excellent work that its members have done on that matter and on other aspects of criminal intelligence gathering. That is vital in dealing with serious criminals. The NCIS has also been successful in its actions against football hooliganism. However, that is quite different from saying that in future people should lose their passports purely on intelligence provided by the NCIS. I shall return to that point if I have time.
I want to consider briefly the existing legislation. Given that legislation, is the Bill necessary? Has that legislation worked? The Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985 prohibits the sale of alcohol on the way to matches on football special coaches and trains, and makes it an offence to be drunk on them. It makes it an offence to try to enter a ground when drunk, or in possession of alcohol; to possess or consume alcohol within view of the pitch during the period of a match; or to be drunk during the period of a match. It gives the police powers to arrest and search anyone reasonably suspected of committing an offence under the Act; they can also search coaches and trains.
The Public Order Act 1986 created a new offence of disorderly conduct: behaviour that stops short of actual violence but which is likely to cause distress, to harass or to alarm. The Act gives the courts the power to make exclusion orders against convicted football hooligans, prohibiting their attendance at league matches in England and Wales.
The Football Spectators Act 1989 gives the courts the power to impose restriction orders on those convicted of football-related offences to prevent them from travelling 530 abroad to matches involving teams from England and Wales. Those subject to such orders must report to a police station. The Act also gives magistrates in England and Wales powers to make orders against those convicted of corresponding offences in certain other countries.
The Football (Offences) Act 1991 created three new offences of disorderly behaviour: throwing missiles; taking part in indecent or racist chanting; and going on to the pitch without authority. Those offences attract a fine, and exclusion and restriction orders may also be imposed.
Not content with that, we introduced the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. That enacted legislation, on grounds of public order and public safety, to make it an offence for an unauthorised person to sell a ticket for a designated football match—the touting offences.
The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is the final piece of legislation that I shall cite. That Act increased the maximum period of imprisonment for breach of a restriction order from one month to six months, and the maximum fine to £5,000. It made failure to comply with a reporting requirement an arrestable offence.
§ Mr. Leigh
While the Crime and Disorder Bill was in Committee, Conservative Members proposed a football banning order, but the proposal was resisted by the Government.
§ Mr. Maclean
My hon. Friend may be correct. In the past, many proposals and pieces of legislation were resisted by the Labour Opposition that have now been slightly more enthusiastically embraced.
§ Mr. Forth
Will my right hon. Friend be dealing with the issue of maximums and minimums in legislation? I should understand why, if he does not, but I ask the question because I should prefer the courts to use discretion on those matters. The Bill seems to take us further away from that approach towards the introduction of statutory minimums. Does my right hon. Friend have a view on that matter?
§ Mr. Maclean
My right hon. Friend is right—I do have a view and, if I have time later, I shall deal with that point.
I have given the House a brief overview of the large amount of legislation relating to football hooliganism that has been introduced in an attempt to make an impact on the problem. The questions to be asked are, has it worked and do we need this new Bill? To answer the question of whether it has worked, one need only look at the statistics produced by the NCIS itself, which show that the number of arrests in football grounds has fallen 37 per cent. between 1992–93 and 1997–98—in other words, during five years in which the existing legislation has been biting. The number of arrests outside grounds has fallen by 17 per cent.; the total fall in arrests is 28 per cent.. That has happened not because the police service has become more idle or is not arresting people, but because the problem has been tackled and substantial progress has been made.
531 I have collected from the internet all the recent NCIS press releases. The press release of 6 August 1998 is headed, "Fall in domestic hooligan arrest figures continues" although concern is expressed about the violent hardcore that remains. The press release states:Football arrest rates at domestic league matches in England and Wales dropped significantly during the 1997/98 season.The rate is now down to 13.4 people per 100,000 spectators, which is welcome. The statistics help to put into context the overall level of criminality relating to football. Of the 3,307 arrests in 1997-98—slightly fewer than the year before—more than 1,000 were drink related. The only arrests for violent offences that I can find are: affray, 65; violent disorder, 52; throwing missiles, 31; and assault, 110—a total of 258 arrests.
I agree with every hon. Member who says that 258 crimes of violence are 258 too many. Although I am concerned about some of the arguments that Liberty has advanced in respect of the Bill, I have never been regarded as a great civil libertarian and I am quite happy, not merely to take away the passports of the 258 people convicted of crimes of violence, but to take away their freedom and their liberty and to put them inside one of Her Majesty's prisons for a considerable period. However, although I am concerned about the 258 people arrested and convicted last year for committing some crime of violence in connection with football, I am delighted to see that the latest Home Office statistics show a continuation of the trend that commenced under the previous Government and the stewardship of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) and me, whereby there is a substantial drop in overall crime, even though the number of crimes against the person always edges up every year.
Of crimes against the person last year, there were 256,100 notifiable offences, 34,000 sexual offences, many of which were extremely and nastily violent, and 62,000 offences of robbery. Overall, there were 352,900 crimes of violence last year, whereas crimes of violence connected with football numbered 258. My point is simply that, although the House might be enthusiastic about additional measures to deal with the evil of football hooliganism, it is talking about 258 crimes. I have to ask whether the draconian measures in the Bill are proportionate to the problem, and whether we should not be taking other powers, or extending existing powers, to tackle the 32,000 reported rapes—and we all know that the actual number of rapes is greater than the reported number—or the 350,000 crimes of violence all told. I am concerned that we may be focusing on one problem and taking our eyes off the ball when it comes to crimes of violence in society. I am concerned that some parts of the Bill may go too far in dealing with a problem which, although nasty, is just a tiny part of the general violence in society that we must address.
Time is pressing, so I can touch on only a few of the many concerns that I have about the Bill that have been identified by the organisation Liberty. I shall advance my arguments in Committee—if I am unfortunate enough to serve on the Committee—or at some other time and seek answers from my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford and from the Minister.
532 I am concerned about clause 1, which imposes a duty on the court to make an international football banning order where it has reasonable grounds to believe that would help prevent violence or disorder. What constitutes "reasonable grounds"? Does that represent a diminution in the normal criminal standards of proof? Liberty thinks it does—and I found in the past that Liberty was often correct. [Interruption.] This Government also ignore Liberty. I have fewer concerns about the drafting of this Bill than about the drafting of the Immigration and Asylum Bill, which is in Committee—but we will not mention that.
I am also concerned about clause 2. What safeguards will there be to ensure that the police and the courts do not take disproportionate action? What criteria will be used to determine whether an offence committed away from the ground is football related? I am concerned that youngsters of 14 could be caught up in unruly behaviour that may be classified as a football-related incident. Those kids would then be branded and stigmatised for 10 years, which is how long the banning order could apply. Those youngsters who were not real football hooligans would have those football-related offences hanging around their necks for longer than they deserved. I do not care what the law does to real football hooligans. I hope that they are punished severely—it serves them right. However, innocent people could be caught by the legislation.
How feasible will it be in practice to prosecute an individual on those grounds? What will be the burden of proof? Is there too much risk that such prosecutions will be overly dependent on police intelligence that might compromise other intelligence? I am concerned about the conditions and duty to report in clause 3. What guidance will be given as to what is "reasonably practicable"? What redress will be offered when a passport is unduly retained?
I heard what the Minister said about the advice that she has received about the European convention on human rights. She can do no better than consult lawyers about that issue. I hope, for her sake and for that of the Government, that the advice proves to be correct. It would be a unique occurrence if lawyers' opinions were found to be correct on every occasion. I am concerned about what advice the Minister will receive about my hon. Friend's suggestion regarding confiscating the passports of unconvicted people. We do not have time to go into that today, and I do not think the Minister has received advice about that issue. However, we shall want to return to that subject later as I think it has serious ECHR consequences.
Clause 4 deals with the duration and termination of orders. I shall put several questions about that to my hon. Friend on another occasion. I am concerned also about clause 6, "Domestic football banning orders"; and about clause 10 and ticket touting. My concerns are similar to those expressed by my hon. Friends. As to strengthening the rules on ticket touting, we voted to make ticket touting an offence not because we thought it was disgusting, unfair and commercially inappropriate but because touting broke the segregation rules, which we believed were essential in stopping violence. I hope to return to that subject later.
I return to the issue of whether the Bill is justified and absolutely necessary. As a Minister during the Euro 96 competition, I can confirm that the NCIS and the police conducted superb operations, although I take no credit for 533 that. I had the privilege of visiting the Metropolitan police control room and seeing all the European intelligence officers working fantastic, off-the-shelf Microsoft computer equipment, which was a first for the police service. The NCIS issued a statement saying that the cup matches were perfectly policed and that there were no major problems.
We now have a Bill that seems to have come about because of the shambles of the world cup in France. That shambles occurred not because our legislation is faulty but because the French authorities ran a shambolic ticketing operation that was directly responsible for causing problems and encouraging many more of our hooligans and touts to go to France. I should like to deal with that point at a later stage; perhaps it will arise in Committee.
I end by saying that I will not today oppose the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for West Chelmsford, but I have many concerns that I hope he will address in Committee. If not, we may have to deal with them when the Bill returns to the Floor of the House.
§ 2.1 pm
§ Mr. Burns
With the leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall speak briefly to the Bill. We have had an extremely interesting and helpful debate and I am grateful for the support that my Bill has attracted from hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Jones).
I have listened with great care to the concerns expressed by a number of hon. Members. I respect those concerns and if the Bill is granted a Second Reading, I will be able, along with other hon. Members, to consider those issues in more detail in Committee. I urge the House to give this badly needed Bill a Second Reading so that it may continue its progress through the House and, if necessary, be improved during that process.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee, pursuant to Standing Order No. 63 (Committal of Bills).