HC Deb 04 April 1984 vol 57 cc955-6
11. Mr. Pendry

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will consider making his liaison group a more effective body in the monitoring of football hooliganism.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

The task of the liaison group is to co-ordinate policy and precautions against violence associated with soccer. I am currently reviewing, in the light of recent events, all options open to the Government.

Mr. Pendry

Is the Minister aware that his liaison group met last on 16 February about two weeks before the England-France game in Paris which, as the House knows, resulted in appalling violence? How can the Minister be satisfied that the liaison group is an effective body to combat football hooliganism unless it meets regularly immediately before and after such games so that the right conclusions may be drawn? When will the Minister publish the results of his inquiry into the matter? Finally, will he broaden the group——

Mr. Speaker

One at a time.

Mr. Macfarlane

I understand the hon. Gentleman's anxiety, but he must not assume that because a meeting took place in February it was necessarily associated with the Paris match. Preparations for that match and others began last September, with dialogue at varying levels, as I have told the hon. Gentleman. The liaison group is essentially a partnership between football governing bodies and the relevant Departments. Mistakes have occurred, and we must continue to consider urgently problems surrounding the stadium, distribution of tickets and travel.

Mr. Parry

The House will have noted the great example set by Liverpool and Everton fans in two Milk Cup finals. In spite of the problems of Liverpool, that shows the Government that we still have a lot of bottle. I hope that the House will express the wish that Everton reaches the final of the FA Cup.

Mr. Macfarlane

I must refrain from partiality, but I pay the highest tribute to the football supporters and spectators of both clubs, not only for their exemplary behaviour in recent weeks but for their continuing good behaviour over many years.

Sir Anthony Grant

Excluding, of course, the examples of Everton and Liverpool, is my hon. Friend satisfied that other clubs and players are doing all that they can to curb this nonsense? Does he think that the antics of some footballers during and immediately after matches, which did not occur in the days of Sir Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton and other great players, unnecessarily excite the more lunatic elements in the crowd?

Mr. Macfarlane

The performance and actions of some football players can undoubtedly inflame spectators. However, the worst excesses of violence have occurred outside the stadium and, more recently, outside this country. Violence outside the stadium is a continuing problem for all civil authorities.

Mr. John Hunt

Is it not true that many thugs and hooligans can be readily identified through television coverage of matches? Can more be done to track down and prosecute them by that means?

Mr. Macfarlane

I agree with my hon. Friend that that is an important aspect. Many prosecutions result from such identification, helped by equipment inside the stadium and elsewhere. Clearly, much of my hon. Friend's question should be diverted to my hon. Friends at the Home Office.

Mr. Ashton

Why is it that when a handful of hooligans can wreck a football stadium in Paris, the Government do nothing but wring their hands and set up a committee of inquiry, yet when miners want to go on peaceful picketing, they are stopped and over 500 are arrested——

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is widening the question too far.

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Gentleman must understand that the offences during the recent England-France match occurred outside this country. Unless the French authorities prosecute and convict, there is no statutory system in this country whereby a prosecution can take place for offences committed outside the country.

Sir Kenneth Lewis

As there has been mention of famous football clubs, may I say to my hon. Friend that my football club of Stamford will be at Wembley in the final of the Vase? There will be no violence at that match because the fans are orderly. Is my hon. Friend aware that much of the violence comes about because the young people who go to the matches have too easy access to drink?

Mr. Macfarlane

I take note of that point. Many league clubs automatically prohibit alcohol. We try to operate a voluntary system in this country. I wish my hon. Friend's constituency team good luck at Wembley in the final.

Dr. Cunningham

Does not the Minister agree that, as football hooligans pose a real threat to the reputation of this country, more needs to be done to stop them travelling abroad in the first place? If the police can stop miners going about peaceful picketing, why cannot the Government come up with proposals to prevent football hooligans from doing what they are doing? That is an important question. Do not the events in Paris confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) said — that present Government policy is not working and new initiatives are required?

Mr. Macfarlane

The present Government policy is very much working. Overseas travel and the problems surrounding English clubs and the international sides were of such concern to me that I began the European initiative in January 1983, working with some 20 other Ministers responsible for sport in the Council of Ministers. I believe that it still has time to work. Mistakes occurred on the other side of the English Channel. We are looking closely at those matters.