HC Deb 01 March 1984 vol 55 cc391-6 3.31 pm
Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland) (by private notice)

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he would make a statement on the behaviour of English fans attending the France-England soccer match in Paris on 29 February 1984?

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

No one in the House can feel anything but a sense of shame, disgrace and revulsion at what occurred in France before, during and after the international soccer match in Paris yesterday.

I am awaiting further details from my and other officials in Paris, but early reports show that 30 English fans were arrested following violence in the stadium: 26 have been released and four are still being held. My officials will be holding further discussions to assess the extent of the damage caused by the disturbances.

In the light of previous incidents caused by English football supporters abroad, notably in Luxembourg in November, pre-match planning for this game, on the part of Government, the football authorities and the French football and law and order authorities, was particularly extensive. Considerable efforts were made to implement the measures agreed by European Ministers with responsibility for sport at our meeting in Rotterdam in November. The initiative for European agreement on these measures to combat football-related hooliganism was taken by me in January 1983, when I met European Ministers in Paris. The paper agreed by European Ministers for sport contains a number of recommendations for action by Government and by football authorities. Two in particular — the control of ticket sales and crowd segregation—would enable a considerable reduction in the opportunities for crowd disturbances.

In addition to my visit to Paris in January 1983, I met the French Minister with responsibility for sport again in Paris in September 1983 and discussed football hooliganism and the great importance of co-operation between European Governments. I also wrote to the French Minister on 10 February 1984 stressing the need for adequate policing within and without the stadium and the need to deter offenders by resolute action by the police and the courts.

Representatives of the English Football Association, including its overseas liaison officer—a retired senior Metropolitan Police officer—visited Paris on 9, 10 and 11 January 1984 and met representatives of the French football authorities, the French police and our embassy in Paris. Arrangements were made regarding control of ticket sales, crowd segregation, sale of alcohol, supporter travel routes and policing.

The European agreement is a major and constructive document reflecting the positive action and intention of Government to do all within their power to combat hooliganism. We are confident that proper and effective implementation of the measures contained in the agreement would greatly reduce the problems.

I am in touch with the French Minister for sport requesting a full report of the incidents, and will also be meeting the chairman and secretary of the Football Association tomorrow afternoon for discussions.

I shall be conducting a full appraisal of the incidents with the parties concerned. I shall need to establish whether the measures agreed by European Ministers were fully implemented on the day. I fully intend to continue to urge all concerned to do everything possible to rid the game of these mindless louts, and to urge European countries to use stringent penalties against convicted offenders to act as a deterrent.

Dr. Cunningham

Is the Minister aware that everyone in Britain, particularly all those who hold our national game of football in affection, and—in a wider sense—all those who value the reputation of this country, must recoil in horror from yesterday's events in France, not only in the French football stadium but elsewhere in that country? Were not yesterday's events foreshadowed by the attitude of and information from the Football Association, which acted responsibly by refusing to sell tickets unchecked, other than to recognised and registered fans and through authorised travel agents? May I make it clear that, in our view, the Football Association is not to blame for what happened?

Is it true that the National Front was behind much of the ugly violence that we witnessed? Is it also true that the National Front deliberately organised for its members to attend this match in force? Since 1980, we have seen similar events perpetrated by English soccer followers—not the Irish, not the Welsh, not the Scots — in Denmark, Holland — [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman may think it is insulting, but it happens to be a fact. We have seen such events in Denmark, Holland, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Italy and now regrettably, in France. It is clear that, in spite of the long list of activities that the Minister related to the House, the Government's initiatives in this matter are failing. That is surely apparent. Will the Minister say whether the special arrangements that he mentioned with the police and other authorities were carried out as he had requested, and what liaison, if any, took place with the French authorities?

Is it not time that we prevented these hooligans from travelling abroad, where they besmirch the reputation of our game of soccer and of this country? De we not now need a new initiative from the Government and tougher controls to prevent innocent travellers and decent football fans, as well as our European neighbours, from being not only insulted but injured? Does it not demonstrate that we are dealing not with a sports policy or with football, but with a matter of public order, and should not the Home Secretary take charge of events?

Mr. Macfarlane

Although I am grateful for some of the hon. Gentleman's observations, I must point out that it was for that very reason that the Government took action. We believed that it was not just a domestic but a European problem, and clearly the reputation of English fans has had a triggering effect in many countries. I shall want to examine all the details of all the reports of what took place. Whether there were co-ordinated minority groups, I do not know. That is what I want to find out.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that there was the closest co-operation between all the police forces on this side of the Channel and the other. Trains on Tuesday evening with fans travelling to Paris for the match were escorted by the British Transport police from Victoria to Dover. No alcohol was on sale on those trains. At the request of the master of the French ship, the St Eloi, on which the bulk of the fans travelled, the British Transport police accompaned the fans across the Channel. The master closed down the bars during the voyage, but trouble broke out between rival fans just before Dunkirk, and damage was done to the ship's fittings. The ship was met by the French police and the fans were escorted by train to Paris.

Obviously control whilst on French soil outside the stadium is very much a matter for the French police and civic authorities.

We in this country had a duty to try to help the French authorities to plan and prepare. That is why we took all these actions. I shall not apportion blame, but the House must remember that we are dealing with a minority of 1 per cent. or less and that 99 per cent. of people are having their sports disrupted and their enjoyment curtailed by a mindless minority. We must remember that statistic.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Does my hon. Friend agree that these disgraceful scenes are almost invariably on account of the consumption of too much alcohol? Will he bear in mind the success of the Scottish system under which drink is banned from football grounds so that fans tend to go to a match to watch football and not to enjoy a drinking spree?

Mr. Macfarlane

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the document that was agreed in Rotterdam in November touched on this. Not only did it stress the importance of segregating the rival supporters in the stadium; it was anxious also to ensure that tickets were controlled on the day of the match. This is something that I shall want to look at.

Equally, there should be a restriction, if not a ban, on the sale of alcoholic drinks. I shall consider this, too, but would point out that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has been very helpful in many of these matters in recent months in requesting the authorities on ferries and trains to close the bars.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Will the Minister accept that most genuine football supporters recognise that there are difficulties and know that there are no instant solutions to the problems of the kind that arose last night in Paris? Further, will he recognise, when he comes to speak to it, that the all-party football committee which I chair accepts that the problems that he has already recognised should be aired in a larger forum? We suggest that he convene a special conference of bodies concerned with football. I understand that the Football Trust is prepared to sponsor such a conference to give the Minister an all-round view of the problem. Will he also recognise that those who disgraced this country and football yesterday are a minority of fans who are not genuine football supporters but football animals—and I use that word with apologies to the animal lobby?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am grateful for any contribution that any organisation feels it can make. I pay tribute to the contribution that the Football Trust has made over the years to football in this country. Many conferences have taken place, under both the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Health (Mr. Howell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro), with the leading authorities in both police and football. I believe that in many respects they have had largely successful results, but it is still the 1 per cent. of people who cause the trouble.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

Does my hon. Friend realise that there is virtually nothing else that any Government can conceivably do to improve the situation? Therefore, would it be right to ban all fans from attendance at football matches abroad until the need for decent behaviour is recognised at football matches in this country?

Mr. Macfarlane

I still consider that I and other European sports Ministers must ensure that there is effective implementation of what we have agreed to in the past. One must remember that 99 per cent. of spectators enjoy their football and behave properly, as people do in most spectator sports. It is up to the courts and to the magistrates to ensure that the legislation is recognised" notably that of 1981, which has the football hooligan very much in mind.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

While there can be no excuse for the appalling behaviour of the spectators who were only peripherally football supporters, will the Minister accept that anyone who saw the television pictures would conclude that the French police had acted with needless violence and that that can only have exacerbated the trouble? In view of the fact that this reflects very poorly on all decent British travellers, will he look into ways of making it harder for people to obtain passports and perhaps placing some responsibility on the sponsors of those who are given them?

Mr. Macfarlane

The deployment of the French police force is not my responsibility. Fans should understand that the French police have their responsibilities and duties. I am sure that they were deployed in the way that was envisaged by the French Minister for sport when we discussed the matter last year.

Mr. Patrick Nicholls (Teignbridge)

Bearing in mind that only a tiny minority of people behave in this way, has not the time come to consider withdrawing passports from those convicted of offences arising from football hooliganism either abroad or in Britain? Although that may be an anti-libertarian measure, is it not better to keep our louts in Britain rather than inflict them on our neighbours?

Mr. Macfarlane

My hon. Friend will know that there is no statute by which Ministers can withdraw passports. In recent years one of the problems has been that those guilty of violence and mayhem abroad have been returned on the first train, ferry or aeroplane and have not come before the courts. Many are arrested but not charged. Only after a person is charged, convicted and has served some form of detention do the British football authorities have any idea who to ban from their grounds and deny tickets for further away matches.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Is the Minister aware that among the groups of hooligans shown on television last night was one carrying a banner marked "Blackburn National Front"? Is he further aware that that group is unrepresentative of the people of Blackburn and its harmonious and multi-racial communities? I am sure that I speak on behalf of my constituency when I say that, in so far as that group was responsible for the violence, the people of Blackburn wish to apologise to the French Government and wish to see the strongest possible action taken against them.

Mr. Macfarlane

I shall convey those views to the French Minister for sport. I also recognise Blackburn's fine football record. I did not see the scenes to which the hon. Gentleman referred, but that is one of the matters that I want to consider. I feared that there would be some problem and that is why I sent my officials there yesterday.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

Will my hon. Friend accept that one question needs to be investigated? My hon. Friend said that the British Transport police accompanied the train and the boat and that the scum—that is the only word that I am prepared to use—broke up some of the fittings on the ship. They were met by the French police and the scum then damaged British cars awaiting distribution. Why did the British Transport police not liaise with their French counterpart to stop those characters from landing?

Mr. Macfarlane

My hon. Friend raises a point that I shall want to look at closely. I am assured by the Football Association liaison officer that there was the closest collaboration between police on both sides of the Channel.

Mr. Michael McGuire (Makerfield)

We all deplore this action, but will the hon. Gentleman consider the question of the excitement that soccer is supposed to generate which could be the cause of some of the problems? As a rugby supporter, I must ask him to examine that matter with the soccer authorities. One would get more fun at a sock-knitting contest than watching these games of soccer. A point that I have made before that must strike our friends on the Continent is that when Wales played France in Wales recently — I think that it was agreed that, although the Welsh lost they should have won—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman, but will he get to the question?

Mr. McGuire

It is a heart-warming fact and of some importance that the French fans mingled both before and after the game with the Welsh fans and there was not one ounce of violence. Is that not a tribute to the game of rugby and should we not be encouraging its spread?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's comments will be noted outside the House and guarantee him a supply of tickets for the rest of the season. Everyone has his own ideas about the type of excitement that sport and recreation generate and there are no doubt many other sports which do not trigger any violence at all except on the field.

Mr. Stefan Terlezki (Cardiff, West)

I sympathise with my hon. Friend in his problems in dealing with soccer vandalism and hooliganism. I have had some experience of them because I had the privilege of being the chairman of Cardiff City football club. When I took over the club, passes—and I have one of them, exhibit A, here—were issued to young boys between the ages of 12 to 20. The system worked wonderfully. My hon. Friend should take note of that system. It worked in the past, and I am convinced that it would work in the future.

Mr. Macfarlane

I congratulate my hon. Friend on representing a football club in a predominantly rugby city. A feasibility study is being worked on with a number of people to see whether that system would work.

Mr. Robert Parry (Liverpool, Riverside)

Like many right hon. and hon. Members, I am worried about football hooliganism abroad and at home. I hope that on 25 March, when Liverpool and Everton play in the Milk Cup final, they will set an example to all British soccer fans. I hope that the mixture of Liverpudlians and Evertonians will show that even soccer fans can be civilised.

Mr. Macfarlane

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and endorse his statement. I am confident that on 25 March the two great clubs from that great city will continue with their excellent behaviour.

Mr. W. Benyon (Milton Keynes)

Does my hon. Friend realise that we shall never get on top of this problem at home or abroad until the perpetrators realise that they will be sent to prison? Fining is no good.

Mr. Macfarlane

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why I was pleased to have the support of other European Ministers at Rotterdam to encourage the judiciary and the authorities of each European sovereign state to deter those people and to implement stiff sentences.

Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we have reached the stage in the cycle of violence when the football organisations here and abroad can take no further action? It is up to the House to deal with the problem by way of punishments that will stop lads from carrying on as they did this week in Paris.

Mr. Macfarlane

The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 1981 was designed very much with football hooligans in mind.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I must protect the business of the House. We come now to the business statement.