§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Thomas Cox.]
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Bryan Gould (Southampton, Test)
I begin this debate with a confession: I am a long-time admirer and supporter of Manchester United Football Club. Indeed, it occupies a place in my affections second only to that of my own club, Southampton Football Club. Many of the Saints' supporters have special reasons for feeling kindly towards United, because it played a most notable although unwilling part in the history of Southampton Football Club when that latter team won the Cup last year. But 1741 I am afraid that the visit of Manchester United to Southampton on 26th February for a further Cup-tie match in this current competition was a less happy occasion.
The problems encountered on that day were largely exacerbated by the fact that the Dell football ground is situated in the middle of a residential area in my constituency. That is very well recognised locally by the club, the police and the residents themselves, many of whom, I hasten to say, are themselves very keen supporters of the club.
Many people will accept that one of the long-term ways of dealing with this problem is to obtain a satisfactory ground further removed from residential areas and that one could then look forward to a reduction in the sorts of problems encountered on 26th February. But, quite apart from that longer-term prospect, one is entitled to ask why it is that the residents in that area should have to endure either now or in the foreseeable future the sort of damage and destruction inflicted upon them when Manchester United visited us last month.
I have had an avalanche of letters from my constituents. I have had a memorandum produced by the directors of Southampton Football Club. I have had an excellent letter today from the secretary of the local branch of Manchester United supporters, and I have a copy of the letter sent to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, by Southampton Chamber of Commerce.
Taken together these reports and letters constitute a shameful and sordid catalogue. I have had instances reported to me of physical initimidation, a large number of assaults, including a sexual assault, threats, robbery with violence, damage to property, damage to people's gardens and the installations in their gardens. I have a report of an elderly lady having been injured by broken glass as she sat in her own sitting room. I have heard of instances of people being woken up at 5 o'clock in the morning by obscene chants. When they venture to look out of their windows they find—as happens throughout the day—young hooligans urinating in their front gardens, exposing themselves, and so on.
I have one report of a man who was innocently travelling home in his car after work when he found himself suddenly 1742 surrounded by a horde of hooligans. He was compelled to stop because there was no escape. He was imprisoned in his car and he had to sit there while these so-called football hooligans laid hands on everything they could find in order to smash his car to pieces. They kicked it and did £300 worth of damage. The damage, of course, was not only physical, material and financial in that sense.
I have had letters from people who dared not go into the centre of town, who dared not visit their local shopping centres because they knew that Manchester United was visiting Southampton. As my hon. Friend will know from the letters his right hon. Friend has received, the local chamber of commerce estimates that £200,000 worth of business was lost because people refused or were afraid to go into the city centre.
In addition, the football club estimates that £2,500 worth of damage was done within the ground. The cost to the ratepayers of providing extra police is estimated at £15,000. It is quite impossible even to estimate a total for the damage suffered by individual citizens. This is an unacceptable total of destruction and damage.
I ask my hon. Friend in all seriousness what is to be done. I am mindful of the fact that simply raising the issue on the Floor of the House, on television, or elsewhere, is not likely to be very helpful. One could argue that it would be the reverse and that it simply attracts further attention and gives further publicity to young people whose real objective is not to support football but to secure some form of notoriety through their collective action. This objective can only be fed by further attempts to focus attention on the problem.
I raise the matter not simply because I think that it should be ventilated—although I believe that—but because I think that the time has now come for an end to the pandering, to inquiries, to fevered discussions, to worried brows and so on. The time has come for some real action to be taken. I realise that many of my constituents, as evidenced in their letters to me, believe that there is one obvious and easy solution— namely, to impose extremely severe penalties upon anyone who is caught involved in this type of action.
1743 Many people have pressed the case for the return of the birch and all sorts of other similar and severe punishments. I am not opposed to severe punishments in these cases, but I would not go so far as to recommend the return of the birch. I believe that my constituents, whose anxiety is understandable, nevertheless misunderstand the nature of the problem.
The problem is not what we do with such people when they are apprehended, although I accept that we should pay some attention to that. The problem is that once people in large numbers descend on a town, football ground, or residential area, quite impossible burdens are imposed on the police. In such a case it is far too difficult for them to be asked to maintain proper law and order. In other words, the problem is not sentencing these people but controlling them once they arrive in such areas.
I suggest to my hon. Friend that if we are to tackle this problem seriously we must attempt to strike at its root. The root of the problem rests with a small number of clubs— it pains me to say that Manchester United is clearly one of them— which have difficulties when their young supporters travel in large numbers to away matches. Once that basic fact is recognised, some way forward can be discerned.
Given that it is impossible to proscribe freedom of movement altogether, because we cannot simply say that an individual will not be allowed to proceed from point A to point B, nevertheless it ought to be possible to make it more difficult than it now is for that person to achieve his objective in making that journey.
I therefore suggest that, when certain clubs are involved in away matches, admission to those matches should be made ticket-only and that there should be a restriction on the sale of tickets. It may even be that the tickets should be sold only in the town of the home club. I suggest that no one should be permitted to travel by means of group travel to the away match unless he is a ticket holder.
I further suggest that those who provide the transport— it is usually coaches — for group travel should be licensed. I suggest that a condition of the licence should be that no alcoholic liquor should 1744 be consumed during the journey. I suggest that the police should enforce a requirement— I am not sure that they have the legal powers at present, though I think they do— that coaches should not be allowed to enter a town which is hosting a match until, let us say, an hour before the match, and that coaches should depart immediately after the match has finished.
I am indebted to many people, including to Southampton Football Club, for many of these suggestions. I believe that the implementation of a combination of them would be effective.
Southampton Football Club imposed some of these conditions for its own away match against Anderlecht in Belgium. The club has submitted to me, as perhaps it has to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, a report on how well the arrangements worked in that instance. I have also seen a letter of commendation from the football club at Anderlecht congratulating Southampton on the arrangements for that trip.
If the Government are to take effective action, it must be along these lines. However, if the clubs themselves will not adopt such policies voluntarily— I hope that they will seriously consider adopting these policies— the Government have an obligation to take action. There is here a classic conflict of interest between, on the one hand, a relatively small proportion, though a large absolute number, of young supporters who wish the freedom to travel away— allegedly to support a football club, but more particularly to wreak the kind of havoc that I have described— and, on the other hand, the interest of ordinary peaceable citizens such as those who inhabit my constituency in Southampton.
There is no way in present circumstances in which that clash of interests can be reconciled satisfactorily. If in the end the parties to this clash of interests cannot regulate the matter voluntarily, it is clearly the responsibility of the Government to take action to do so.
I have no doubt that, if the Government are to allow one interest to prevail over the other, the interest which is to predominate must without argument be that of ordinary peaceful citizens who want the freedom to shop in their own shopping centres on a Saturday afternoon 1745 or sit peacefully in their own sitting rooms.
The Government should also take into account the fact, though I am not sure that this point can be applied too strongly to Southampton Football Club, that in the conditions of football today football clubs are major commercial undertakings. Therefore, they should perhaps be made to carry as part of the costs of their operations the costs of the type of damage which is incidental to so many matches. There seems to be no ground for requiring the ratepayers of Southampton or the ratepayers of any other city to pay charges for police protection, which is sadly inadequate on occasions of this kind.
I believe that the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 entitles those who suffer property damage as the result of a riot to make a claim for compensation against the local police authority. It may be asked whether the actions of a football crowd could properly be regarded as a riot. The case of Monday v. Metropolitan Police Receiver, which was decided in the Queen's Bench Division in 1949, laid down that all the conditions of riot are met in the case of a football crowd acting in certain circumstances—more specifically, in the case of the match between Chelsea acid Moscow Dynamo. In principle, therefore, people have this statutory right in certain circumstances.
I shall advise people who suffer such damage to make claims against the police authority. I believe that if such claims are sufficiently numerous—they will certainly be sufficiently substantial because the damage is so serious—that will impose such a burden on police funds that the Government will be compelled to take some action. I hope and believe that the Minister will not wait until that eventuality occurs, but will recognise the seriousness of the situation, will be prepared to treat it seriously and will be able to announce some effective action along the lines that I have suggested.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton Itchen)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould), who is my own Member of Parliament, for allowing me to take part in this debate. I live quite close to the Dell and my property has suffered damage 1746 from football crowds in the past. On this occasion, I was lucky and there was no damage, perhaps because the night before the match there was a skip, half full of bricks, outside my house and I suddenly realised what a wonderful set of weapons they provided. I informed the police and the skip was smartly removed the next morning.
I saw the game against Manchester United. It was an excellent match and there was no violence. It cannot therefore be argued in this case that violence on the field led to violence off the field.
There were two fundamental reasons for the trouble. First, far too many people arrived from Manchester far too early. Secondly, 2,000 Manchester United supporters arrived without tickets and most of the assaults that took place were attempts to rob local supporters of tickets before they got to the ground.
Southampton Football Club has recognised the, seriousness of the situation and has put forward a number of suggestions that I hope will be considered. The club suggests that each football club must be responsible for its own supporters travelling in bulk, that a licensing system for the carrying of football supporters in bulk must be introduced, and that all forms of bulk transport should carry stewards selected by and responsible to the club.
The club also suggests that no alcohol should be carried or consumed while the supporters are in transit, that times of arrival at visiting grounds must be regulated and agreed with the local police, with whom arrangements should also be made regarding parking facilities, and that some form of travel document should be held by each individual travelling on bulk transportation.
Another recommendation is that British Rail should stop its cheap-day excursions on such occasions, whether by coincidence or otherwise. British Rail claims that its cheap-day excursions to Southampton on the Saturday in question were coincidental.
If such recommendations are considered, we can go a long way towards avoiding a repetition of the trouble that we had on this occasion.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Brynmor John)
I am grateful to 1747 my hon. Friends the Members for Southampton, Test (Mr. Gould) and Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Mitchell) for the constructive way in which they have approached this most intractable of problems. I express my very real sympathy with them. I have been a great sports fan since childhood and although my accent may indicate that I prefer rugby football to any other sport, that is merely a recognition of my superiority in this matter.
I have been saddened and sickened by the way in which violence off the field had marred the enjoyment not only of adults who go to football matches, but of boys, of the age that I was when I started going to matches, who go to games with their parents. Football has little future if the coming generation, which is not violent, is frightened away from matches by this sort of behaviour.
There are two types of football hooliganism. The first is the threatening of spectators who have the temerity to support a side other than that supported by the violent young person and the other affects those who have the misfortune to live anywhere in the vicinity of a football ground. I offer my hon. Friends my deepest sympathy and the determination of the Government to ensure, as far as is practicable, that people can live in peace and watch in peace on the occasion of so-called sporting events. However, it is not an easy problem and it is not susceptible to simple remedies.
Unfortunately, sport happens to be a repository of the growing violence in society and we should be wrong to undervalue the difficulty and complexity of the matter. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken a close personal interest in this problem. He has had conversations with chief officers of police, who are primarily responsible for measures for combating disorder and has discussed with them the measures that they are taking.
My right hon. Friend and colleagues from other Departments met representatives of football organisations and police officers. The consensus of view is that this matter is best sorted out by those who are most closely concerned. It is thought best to arrange countermeasures locally. That requires the 1748 fullest co-operation of the football clubs, supporters' clubs and transport undertakers. My right hon. Friend proposes to hold a further meeting with interested parties to review progress and to see what further initiatives are necessary.
I wish to emphasis that practical arrangements are a matter for the police. For example, police forces now commonly liaise with the police forces in the area from which the team originates. The police contact coach operators about parking places used on arrival and also about departure times so that supporters may be segregated to avoid clashes between rival groups. When I was a young man I would never have dreamed of such a thing happening, but that is now a fact. It is therefore essential that the police are given the co-operation of all coach operators in this operation. These matters are best handled locally because there is no complete similarity in approach by clubs and supporters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Test commented on the consumption of alcohol and recognised that that is a great problem. We cannot eliminate it completely, but we can take measures to reduce it. One way of reducing this danger is to see that transport arrives shortly before a game and departs shortly after it, so that the minimum amount of time is allowed for supporters to purchase drinks in pubs, off-licences or supermarkets near the ground. At the moment the Traffic Commissioners do not enable supporters travelling by coach to be prevented from carrying alcohol in the coach. This could be done on a voluntary basis by those who organise the trips, but not by the imposition of drastic measures. I believe that football clubs and supporters' organisations can control the consumption of alcohol by their members as can British Rail on trains and in station waiting rooms.
The working party chaired by my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport has given guidance to football clubs on the control of drink within grounds, and this not only relates to the limitation of drinks served within grounds but involves measures to ensure that no drink is smuggled into grounds. These matters are being borne in mind. A vital part of the necessary measures relates to the transport to and from matches and the times when coaches arrive. It is clear 1749 from the working party's report that early arrival and late departure have played a considerable part in the build-up of disorder on these occasions and have created tremendous problems for the local police.
Difficulties can arise when supporters come from areas outside that from which the team originates. However, that is confined to only a few teams. Let me give some illuminating figures. I understand from the police that of 14 coaches observed arriving early at the match in question and carrying Manchester United supporters only five came from the Manchester area. That means that we must further discuss these matters and seek to improve liaison so that we cover outlying groups of supporters and the teams when their transport arrives as well as supporters from main centres.
Another aspect that bears on the safety of spectators in the ground has a side effect in relation to the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 in terms of the ingress or egress of crowds, and this plays a part in the control of crowd behaviour. The grounds must have a safety certificate and the first clubs to be designated under the Act—and they include the First Division clubs—are having their applications considered now.
I turn to the penalties. The Criminal Law Bill that is now before Parliament raises to £1,000 the maximum fine for summary conviction of adults of such offences as criminal damage, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and unlawful wounding. For people under 17 the maximum is to be raised to £200 and for a child under 14 to £50. The maximum compensation is also to be raised to £1,000. On indictment the most severe penalties are possible.
As my hon. Friend said, if the prevention and control of crime were directly related to the severity of the punishment the control of crime would be simple. However, we all know that it is much more complex and difficult to control than that and it is more difficult to foresee than that. Although penalties are stricter, and will become stricter, I can hold out no hope that harshness in itself will solve the problem.
My hon. Friend raised the question of the Riot (Damages) Act. It is possible 1750 that a riot is caused—and that does not mean a riot in the sense of the popular legend about the reading of the Riot Act—when at least three people are concerned with a common purpose, can see that common purpose, and have the intention to help one another. A riot may occur in such circumstances and a claim for compensation could be made provided that it is made in time. As I understand the situation, the time may have passed in this particular case. However, no claims have yet been received by the police authorities and I do not wish to prejudge the issue.
My hon. Friend recognised the difficulties that the police have in controlling the situation. It would be unfair if the police were punished for something that was entirely outside their control. It may also be unfair to expect the Government to "pick up the tabs", because we are not responsible for behaviour. Not only the Government, the police, or the judiciary should decide on the penalties, but a combination of them, with football clubs, supporters' clubs and the transport industries. Since young people are involved, it is also the responsibility of parents, such as myself and most other hon. Members.
It is time that people took responsibility for the behaviour of their young people when they go away. It is time that they gave them the example, the upbringing and teaching that would bring back the pleasure to sport instead of the present gladiatorial attitude to it, not only on the field but off it.
A simple solution is not possible. Some of the arrangements discussed with the traffic commissioners could be operated on a voluntary basis. There has been talk of all-ticket matches. It would be difficult to check whether everyone arriving at a terminus had a ticket.
The responsibility is for all of us. The Home Secretary shoulders that responsibility on behalf of the rest of us. But he acts as the leader, not as the only soldier in the army. I hope that everybody will give us the constructive backing that is needed to overcome the problem.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at half-past Four o'clock.