§ 3. Mr. MacGregor
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will introduce further penal measures to combat football hooliganism.
§ Mr. Merlyn Rees
I have already had one meeting with representatives of the police and the football organisations and I plan to hold a further meeting soon at which my ministerial colleagues and I will review the position with them.
With regard to penalties, the Criminal Law Bill proposes an increase in the maximum summary fine for some of these offences to£1,000. I have also begun consultations with a view to extending the junior attendance centre system.
§ Mr. MacGregor
Is the Home Secretary aware that many people would agree with him that these increased fines, while welcome and helpful, are by no means the answer to the problem, partly because of the practice of having a whip-round to raise a kitty to meet the fine? Is he aware that many people concerned with these matters feel that a better answer would be to deprive these thugs of their liberty for a period—especially on Saturday afternoons—but that the facilities for doing so at present are inadequate? Will he pursue this aspect?
§ Mr. Rees
It is a matter for the magistrates to make their judgment on 626 a whip-round. But if the hon. Gentleman would consider, first, junior attendance centres and community service orders, I think that he would find that there are means now available for getting people away on a Saturday afternoon. What I have been considering is the possibility of these people having to report to police stations. I have talked to the police about this and they are not very keen on it. They would much prefer the attendance centre and community service. Reporting to a police station would apparently require many extra policemen.
§ Mr. Sims
Will the Home Secretary tell us whether amongst those he has consulted has been his hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport, who in the last debate on sport spoke particularly in support of the attendance centre system? Will he explain to the Minister responsible for sport why he is willing to increase the number of attendance centres for juniors—there are 60 at the moment—but is apparently quite unwilling to increase the number of senior attendance centres for the 17-to-21 age group, of which there are only two, and this is the group in which football hooliganism is particularly rife?
§ Mr. Rees
I know the interest of the hon. Gentleman in that subject. I think he will know that the Advisory Council on the Penal System has advised us that in its view an attendance sentence for the 17-to-21 age group should be discontinued in favour of the use of other custodial measures, such as community service orders. In penal policy I take into account the views of those people who spend their lifetime involved in this area.
§ Mr. Hooson
Does the Home Secretary agree that as a matter of penal policy we should be encouraging the use of community service orders for this kind of offence? Is not the truth that the facilities are not readily available in many centres?
§ Mr. Rees
I do not think that is true, but this is not the time to run through the list. Community service is still developing quite rapidly throughout the country even at this time of financial stringency. I have discovered since becoming Home Secretary and going around the country that the community service order system is giving excellent results.
627 I pay tribute to the previous Administration for introducing the scheme.
§ Mr. Carter-Jones
Will my right hon. Friend give an assurance to the House that the measures being attempted with regard to the banning of genuine spectators going to other grounds is a temporary expedient? Does he accept that those people who live near football grounds who are being disturbed and genuine supporters of football clubs welcome strong measures being taken against the minority of hooligans?
§ Mr. Rees
I think that my hon. Friend's last point is absolutely right. As I have told the House before, I live within a quarter of a mile of the Leeds United ground, and my neighbours and I—they far more often than I—are affected by this problem. My hon. Friend's question about my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport and any arrangements that he has made in conjunction with the Football League, and so on, is not a matter for me. But those arrangements, which the sporting clubs have made themselves, do not have the force of law..
§ Sir J. Langford-Holt
Fines and detention are all right, but does the right hon. Gentleman agree that restitution for damage done to property is far too seldom ordered by magistrates?
§ Mr. Spriggs
Is my right hon. Friend aware that while we abhor the disturbances and problems created inside sports stadiums we also take a positive dislike to those who commit serious vandalism and cause injuries to the public outside football stadiums, and that whatever steps are taken by his Department as necessary to stamp out such activities will have the full support of the country?
§ Mr. Rees
I know that there is public concern about this whole problem. I have given it serious consideration. When one considers the detail, tribute should be paid to Rugby League football. My hon. Friend represents a very good Rugby 628 League town. It is worth investigating why there is remarkably little trouble in Rugby League, even at Wembley. There may be something in that. [HON. MEMBERS "What about Rugby Union?"] I should be the last person to praise Rugby Union—that goes without saying.
§ Mr. Mayhew
It is much too soon for the Home Secretary to decide to do away with senior attendance centres, of which there are only two. Is not the way ahead to continue with the experiment, which is cheap and effective, and keeps this class of hooligan offender out of circulation for a considerable time?
§ Mr. Rees
The two centres are an experiment. All I was giving was the advice given to us by the Advisory Council on the Penal System. The advice that it gives is that community service is better for this age group. It is worth considering the view of such a body, and I have to take it into account. But these are value judgments, not absolute judgments. In penal policy, absolute judgments are usually wrong.
§ Mr. Whitelaw
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the vast majority of people in this country would consider it a thoroughly commonsense solution to make sure that, by one means or another, these football hooligans should be unable to attend the football matches at which they cause trouble? If that is so, should he not use the combination of attendance centres and community service orders, to which I am glad he paid tribute, because I believe that they are a great success? I support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Royal Tunbridge Wells (Mr. Mayhew) in suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should not be too hasty in doing away with the senior attendance centres. Is it not reasonable to ask that magistrates should at least have their notice called to the possibility of using these measures to stop hooligans from attending football matches on Saturday afternoons?
§ Mr. Rees
Certainly it is possible—and, obviously, it is done, although not necessarily in a formal way—for such notice to be drawn. I shall not repeat the view that I gave just now. It is the combination of those steps that is important. The other day, I read the report 629 of the Norwich v. Manchester United match, and there was one thing that struck me. Very young boys act in an incredible way. When their team loses, they cry. Tears which one would expect from a young child seem also to come from these kids. It is an extraordinary situation. So the sort of view we take may be wrong because we just do not understand the problem.