HC Deb 19 April 1985 vol 77 cc594-602

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Neubert.]

2.34 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I shall declare my interest in this matter while the shed end is vacating the Chamber. I have been a regular football supporter for about 30 years. The first full season that I spent watching Chelsea was the 1954–55 championship year. Under the inspired chairmanship of Ken Bates, I look forward to a repeat performance of that division one championship in the near future. As I have since moved myself to Newham, I go to watch West Ham as well as Chelsea. I am the vice-president of Clapton football club in my constituency, which is one of the oldest and most distinguished amateur football clubs in the country.

The subject of British soccer generally is of sufficient interest to merit a full parliamentary debate. When the Government produce their report, I hope that we shall get just such an opportunity.

Crowd trouble inside and outside football grounds is not a recent development and is not confined to Britain. The problem should not be overdramatised by politicians and the media. However, more people have become aware of the problem and it has increased in seriousness. The Prime Minister is far from being the first politician to express concern. The right hon. Lady's instant-response approach could create almost as many problems as it solves. If the Prime Minister had not seen the hooliganism at the Luton Millwall match on television, I doubt whether we would have had so many Ministers running around trying to find immediate solutions to deep-seated and complex problems.

I hope that the Minister has studied the report of Norman Chester's committee, which was produced in 1968, the White Paper on sport and recreation, which was produced by the previous Labour Government, the 19'76 report of the working group on football crowd behaviour, a committee chaired by the late and much-lamented Frank McElhone, and the 1984 report on football violence from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. If the Minister can find the time to add to that reading list, he might like to read my own paper on the subject, which was written when I was chairman of the GLC's general purposes committee in 1975. This is a way of showing that the problem of crowd violence at football grounds has been analysed to death over the past 15 to 20 years. Unfortunately, successive Governments, the football authorities and the clubs have failed comprehensively to deal with it properly. There have been too many knee-jerk reactions and far too little real action.

I do not believe that there is any one identifiable cause for football violence. Different outbreaks occur for differing reasons. Local solutions based on local knowledge but with Government support are far more likely to be successful.

The problem should be confronted at two distinct levels. The long-term approach should be aimed at dealing with the decades of neglect within the sport itself. The short-term approach should be designed to contain the immediate menace of increasing crowd violence that is created by a small and unrepresentative element. There is disturbing evidence coming to light which shows that the most serious violence in football is being efficiently organised.

It is only comparatively recently that professional football has become aware that it is in competition with other forms of mass entertainment and, in comparison, is losing out pretty badly. Those who go regularly to football matches know that terraces open to the weather, insufficient seating and primitive refreshment and sanitary arrangements remain the rule rather than the exception. Any serious supporter knows just how appalling conditions remain in most of the 92 league clubs.

Since 1979 the Prime Minister has been to just two matches, and they were both cup finals. She was lucky to get the tickets. Perhaps she will tell me her source. I do not know how many league clubs the Minister has been to, but it is important that politicians who will be making decisions and recommendations should base those on some element of personal experience.

Virtually all football league clubs need to be modernised. That is best done through partnership arrangements between clubs, local authorities and Government agencies, together providing the large-scale funds that are needed to establish sports and social complexes based on the individual grounds.

Local authorities already give grants to a wide range of cultural bodies. I can speak as a past chairman of the arts and recreation committee of the GLC. I have never been able to see any rational argument for excluding footboll clubs, which represent a major working-class cultural activity, from receiving local authority grants. When I argued that particular case in 1975, it was caricatured as soccer on the rates. We have opera, theatre, ballet and recreation on the rates, so why not professional football?

Much could be achieved in terms of general ground improvements and the more intensive use by commuities of football grounds, but it requires imagination as well as resources. None of that is original, because closer working between local authorities and football clubs is already well under way. In Manchester, both Manchester city football club and the city of Manchester recreation department have been involved in the past five years in a football and community programme. It is probably the most highly developed scheme in the country and shows the positive benefits of a long-term relationship between football clubs and local authorities. In that particular scheme, I understand that something in excess of 100,000 people have taken part, 70 per cent. of the courses and competitions that are organised are aimed at the 8 to 18 age group and 85 per cent. of the people taking part have come from the local communities.

In London the GLC has been pushing ahead, as one would expect from a well-run Socialist and progressive authority. In the past two years we have developed several major initiatives with football league clubs. The provision of the all-weather pitch at Fulham was in exchange for the club guaranteeing a minimum of 500 hours of community use of the pitch for six years. A programme of community use is already well developed and it is used by school children, the unemployed, and people with disabilities, and there is a highly imaginative programme involving a senior citizens' club. In a short time that club has become an important resource for the local community instead of a woefully under-used facility.

A recent scheme announced by the GLC involves close co-operation with Arsenal football club, using the club's indoor training facilities for the benefit of the local community. Such things can be done and the Government should encourage local authorities to work on those partnership arrangements with clubs. Their grounds represent an under-utilised asset within our communities where such assets are badly needed.

Public funds should not be used to reinforce private gain. Therefore, I would look for radical changes in the way in which clubs are presently owned and organised. If football clubs were owned and run by a more representative section of supporters, the problem of crowd trouble would disappear in the long run. Football should look to the way in which cricket and rugby union organise themselves. That is the way that professional football should go. It is only in football that directors can act like 19th century mill owners. Regrettably, it is the worst elements of Victorian attitudes that survive in the way that our premier national sport is run.

Those are some of the long-term problems. Let me now deal briefly with the immediate problems we face. No one can doubt that soccer crowd violence is on the increase. The bad publicity that the sport gets is clearly affecting the gates and therefore the economic ability of the game to deal with its problems. It is a reinforcing cycle. The violence is partly a reflection of our increasingly violent society. Therefore, it is nonsense to single out football violence.

I shall make some brief suggestions because I wish to give the Minister plenty of time to reply. As it is a short debate I shall make out a list and if the Minister cannot respond to them all when he replies, perhaps he will respond to me in the usual way, as he has done in the past.

First, all football league matches should be played on Sunday mornings. That would undoubtedly upset some people, but it would do much to eliminate the problems of alcohol inside the grounds. Secondly, ground, should be all seating, covered and divided into small secure sections with closed circuit television. I know that it is easy to say that, but such ground improvements and security measures would cost the game millions. If the Government are not prepared to provide the cash, they should make low or no-interest loans available to professional football clubs through a national funding agency.

Thirdly, if, as I hope, we move towards the concept of football clubs organised as social clubs, admission by club membership card would be compulsory without any erosion of civil rights, which straightforward identification cards at present represent. I read today in The Standard that the chairman of Luton football club is pushing such an idea.

Fourthly, where clubs have singularly failed to minimise the dangers, they should be penalised in a much more draconian fashion. League points should be deducted. Clubs should face compulsory relegation or even expulsion from the league if they persistently fail to deal with problems when help is being offered to them to deal with such problems.

Fifthly, I should like to see courts giving more custodial sentences and community work orders on match days for offenders. The sort of thing that gets right up the nose of the average football supporter is having to weed someone's garden when an FA cup match is being played.

Sixthly, increased policing inside the ground should not be a charge on the clubs. Many people are not aware that in London clubs must pay the Metropolitan police for their presence inside the ground. That should not be the case. The charge should fall on the public purse. Clubs could encourage many more of their supporters to act as voluntary stewards as a form of self-policing.

Seventhly, in London the Commissioner should set up on a trial basis football community policing teams. These would be specialised police teams which would travel regularly to away games to brief the local police force and attend the game with their supporters. If the Commissioner ever gets the scheme off the ground, he may wish to enrol me as a special constable, it seems to be a good job. That would assist the police greatly in maintaining effective policing inside the grounds. Those police teams would soon get to know the regular fans and, therefore, could identify those who were attending only to cause trouble.

In conclusion, if the Government genuinely wish to eliminate soccer violence and to help restore the image of this important international sport, they must show political will and financial commitment. The Government take a lot of revenue from the game. Pools promoters, television, and Fleet street all make big money from football. As a football supporter, I believe that the clubs have a right to expect much more of the wealth that their sport creates to come back into the game for the benefit of the much-abused and vilified football supporter.

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

I am grateful for the constructive way in which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has approached this important subject. I am at one with him on many of the points that he raised. I only hope that, when Hansard is published, he will circularise his speech to as many of those who are responsible for running our great national games as possible. His comments were extremely helpful in the overall context of this national problem.

I confirm that I have read all the documents which the hon. Gentleman enumerated at the beginning of his speech. However, I am oblivious of his report, which I shall certainly read if he would kindly send my office a copy. I shall sit down and study it. There is much to be read on this important topic.

I can also confirm that since I started watching football in the early 1950s—as an Essex dweller, I began at Leyton Orient—I have visited about four fifths of all first and second division football grounds at some stage or another during the past 30 years.

As the hon. Gentleman rightly said, disorder at football matches is by no means a new or recent phenomenon. The problem has been with us for many decades and it affects many countries. It is interesting to note, for example, that Millwall's ground was first closed as a disciplinary measure in 1934, and suffered the same fate in 1947, 1950 and 1978. If he were here, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) would acknowledge that the problem was prevalent during his two terms as Minister with responsibility for sport. He will remember some of the more serious incidents that took place during that period. In 1975, in Paris, when Leeds was playing Bayern, and in 1977, when St. Etienne was playing Manchester United, thousands of pounds worth of damage was caused inside and outside the grounds, and many people required hospital treatment. Again in 1977, England fans in Luxembourg caused £15,000 worth of damage to the stadium and went on a rampage through the city. All this, unhappily, is familiar reading for us.

In their book, "Hooligans Abroad", the Leicester university researchers gave some vivid examples of crowd disorders abroad not involving British fans in support of the argument that football hooliganism is not purely a British disease. In Lima, in 1964, when, in a match between Peru and Argentina, the referee refused to allow a goal to the home side, a riot followed in which 318 people were killed and more than 500 were injured. In Turkey, in 1974, fans of two club sides fought with pistols, knives and broken bottles for days after the end of a match between the two teams. Before troops restored order, cars were burnt out, 600 spectators were injured and 44 were killed. We have seen more recent examples in South America. In Argentina, the national association had to implement a nine-day ban on prfessional football.

Of course, that the problem is not new does not mean that there is an excuse for inaction. It is worth highlighting what the Government have done so far. On law and order, we have strengthened the powers of magistrates through the Criminal Justice Act 1982. The courts can now require parents and guardians to pay fines, costs and compensation for offences committed by young persons and children. The Act has also given the courts greater flexibility in the sentencing of young offenders, providing a new sentence of youth custody and doing away with the limitations on custodial sentences on young offenders. The power to impose community service orders was amended to bring offenders aged 16 or over within the scope of the scheme. We have introduced new custodial measures to deal with young offenders convicted of violent crimes, and doubled the maximum fines available to magistrates. We have also considerably increased the number of attendance centres.

I established a liaison group involving all the concerned agencies and authorities, and four Government Departments, to prepare for the three home countries' participation in the World Cup finals in Spain in 1982. A s we were successful in eliminating incidents of hooliganism through close co-operation in all the regions of Spain, I extended the remit of the liaison group, led by the Football Association chairman, to co-ordinate policy and precautions for domestic and international matches. Officials from my Department serve on that liaison group, as do officials from the Home Office, the Department of Transport and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

We have ensured that embassies and consulates support the Football Association and clubs in planning matches abroad. Consular staff attend meetings with the Football Association's liaison officer, together with stadium authorities, clubs' staff and the local authorities to ensure, so far as possible, that the necessary security precautions are taken. We have, through the Football League, focused league clubs' attention on the need to take precautions, highlighting the segregation of opposing supporters and the importance of pre-match planning, especially if the clubs are known to have problems.

We have agreed with the liaison group a "blueprint" listing the precautions which should be taken for domestic matches. This was circulated to league clubs last August in time for the new season. It revised existing recommendations, and for the first time ensured that recommendations on segregation and the movement of crowds became mandatory under the Football Association's guidelines.

Following serious incidents of violence towards the end of the 1983–84 season, the Government established a working group of officials from the Departments concerned to review what further options were available to tackle the problem. The group's report was published last August as a consultation document. With ministerial colleagues and the Football Association I have since met 17 representative organisations to discuss the report and its recommendations. The organisations, together with many other bodies and individuals, have also submitted a mass of written evidence for our consideration. The report and the consultation on it formed the basis for our most recent considerations following the serious violence at Luton and Chelsea.

Although the recent violence has focused our attention on the domestic scene, the aspect of the problem which has perhaps troubled me most since my appointment in 1981 is the effect that violence by English supporters abroad has on the good name of this country. Clearly there is more than just national pride at stake. The hon. Gentleman touched upon this. There are more tangible economic casualties both in loss of exports and contracts for British companies to carry out work abroad, and particularly if any club is banned or invited to play behind closed doors by the governing body of European football, in which case there could be serious economic loss to the club.

To help tackle this problem, the Government, through the Council of Europe, promoted the recommendation on the' reduction of football violence. In my visits to many European footballing capitals and my discussions with Ministers over the past two years I have found that all accept that this is not purely an English problem.

The recommendation calls for joint action among European countries and sets out the precautions, based on the European Football Association's ground rules, to be taken by the clubs and the authorities.

I first called for the recommendation at the informal working party of sports Ministers in Paris in January 1983, following which a working group chaired by one of my officials was set up to draft these recommendations. I also attended the informal working party of sports Ministers meeting in Rotterdam later in 1983 at which the recommendation was discussed fully and agreed. The recommendation was adopted formally by the Committee of Foreign Ministers in March 1984.

The Government have since taken the lead in the implementation of the agreement. At their fourth conference, held in Malta in May 1984, the European Ministers responsible for sport passed a resolution which I proposed in which they undertook to do all in their power to ensure the full implementation of the recommendation and to draw it to the attention of their respective national football authorities and the European Football Association.

I have also written to my ministerial colleagues abroad in advance of matches involving English clubs pointing out the potential dangers and drawing their attention to the recommendation. On the whole, efforts since have met with co-operation and constructive responses. We shall continue to take the lead on the international front in efforts to build on what has been achieved so far.

I have mentioned briefly the most recent developments following the serious violence at Luton and Chelsea. I was present on 1 April when my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, together with other colleagues, met representatives from both the Football Association and the Football League to discuss soccer spectator violence. I have already informed the House that it became clear from that meeting that the football authorities shared the Government's commitment vigorously to combat violence at football matches.

They agreed to re-examine urgently the Football Association rules governing discipline and the responsibility of clubs with a view to changing and strengthening them. They agreed to accelerate the introduction of closed circuit television, especially at grounds where problem matches are played. They agreed to ensure that perimeter fencing was in place and effective in those grounds. They agreed to investigate a practical scheme of membership cards for Football League, Football Association and European and international matches, in discussion with the European Football Association as necessary, reporting back to me within six weeks. They agreed to consider the introduction of more restrictions on the issue of tickets for problem matches—which should be ticket only. Should there be more flexibility, such as Sunday morning kickoffs? I am convinced that such arrangements should be considered by all those clubs. They also agreed to encourage more and better family enclosures at League grounds. They agreed to deal severely with any bad example set to supporters by players' behaviour on the pitch. They agreed, in advance of the Government's proposed legislation, to take action under existing powers to deal with the problem of alcohol at matches.

The Government will give the strongest possible support to the football authorities, and we are prepared to take action in many ways. It is clear that the Football Association and the Football League are the governing bodies of football in this country. They have to run their own sport, as all sports are run through the 140 governing bodies which we support in one way or another. They are responsible for generating their rules and for setting standards of behaviour both on the pitch and elsewhere. They must put their house in order, but we shall do all we can to help. We shall ensure that we take action in the following ways. Legislation will be introduced in England and Wales to control the sale of alcohol at grounds and on transport to grounds along the lines that have been successful in Scotland. I pay tribute to the report of the late Frank McElhone in 1976 which has become the guiding light for legislation in Scotland and for us.

Under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 designation will be extended to clubs in divisions three and four of the Football League. Initially, it will be to grounds with a record of crowd violence. The guidelines and the green code will be reviewed.

The public order White Paper based on our conclusions following the review is to be published shortly, and our proposals for legislation in the autumn. Some new proposals will assist in preventing and controlling football hooliganism.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will be discussing with the police what improvement can be made to their effectiveness in dealing with football violence—in particular, in obtaining evidence to bring more serious charges where appropriate.

My right hon. and learned Friend is encouraging magistrates to make full use of their powers, including detention and attendance centre sentences. I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the importance of young people, who have nothing to do with watching and enjoying football—our national sport—but who seek to disrupt games. I am convinced that it would be an effective deterrent if they were certain that they would be put away on a Saturday afternoon at an attendance centre when a match was on. Many other people would perceive it to be an effective deterrent.

We shall do all that we can to ensure that everyone understands the full range of legal sentencing available. We shall encourage bail conditions forbidding attendance at matches and we are drawing attention to the Court of Appeal guidelines on sentencing violent offenders.

Mr. Banks

Is the Minister prepared to recommend to his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary some examination of the idea of specialised police teams to deal with the problem of soccer violence?

Mr. Macfarlane

I shall draw that important point to my right hon. and learned Friend's attention. It is something that he would have to consider, but it may well have a part to play.

I have not heard from the Opposition parties on our spectator violence report despite my suggestion that they might make comments and observations. I told the House some months ago that 17 organisations and authorities had provided evidence and opinions. I should welcome any contribution or commitment that the hon. Gentleman could give and I would convey it to my right hon. and learned Friend.

For matches abroad, we shall consult other Governments about giving better publicity to and perhaps strengthening last year's Council of Europe recommendation on football violence which I have already mentioned. We shall review how the diplomatic service can help in identifying troublemakers. We are considering arrangements for people convicted overseas to serve their sentences in this country. We shall seek to discourage travel agents from setting up special schemes for problem matches.

The hon. Gentleman made several points that 1 shall cover in correspondence with him. Our football clubs could become the focal point of many communities They could develop and generate facilities. The Sports Council has helped in many cases. The urban aid programme and the derelict land grants scheme, in addition to normal local authority expenditure, have helped many football clubs to develop as the focal point for young people in the community.

When I consider the number of people who attended professional football matches in the 1950s compared with the present time, I believe that the time is long overdue for urgent action. The great weight of public opinion is behind everything that we do. We must approach the problem in many ways.

I pay tribute to the tremendous contribution made by the Football Trust, which is financed by the pools promoters and the spot-the-ball competition. It has provided the better part of £20 million for ground improvements, not just under the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975, but for all-weather pitches for youngsters, not just for the club members but for the people within the community. Football must now somehow compete with the ever-increasing demand of public attention and competition from alternative sports.

What we are seeking to do represents a substantial package of new measures from the Government to support the new tough line that the Football Association and Football League have agreed to take. We must take urgent action with a package of measures as we approach the close season.

Those people involved in professional football and those responsible for clubs must sit down and rigorously examine what they want to do to see how they can save our great national game domestically and internationally—

The Question having been proposed after half-past Two o'clock and the debate having continued for half an hour, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at four minutes past Three o'clock.