HC Deb 03 July 1985 vol 82 cc439-61
Mr. Douglas Hogg

I beg to move amendment No. 7, in page 2, line 19, leave out from 'liquor' to end of line 20.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this we shall discuss the following amendments: No. 20, in page 2, line 33, leave out subsection (3).

No. 21, in page 2, line 39, at end add 'provided that at the material time

  1. (i) it does hold such a product and
  2. (ii) is not used by any person deliberately to cause injury'.

Mr. Hogg

The purpose of the amendment is to delete the reference to "controlled container" in clause 2. The object behind the inclusion of this part of the Bill is to reduce the number of objects that can be used as missiles and thrown at people — hence the restriction on the possession of controlled containers.

The Committee will wish to understand that the definition of a controlled container is so wide that, in effect, it would include any object containing liquid, other than medicine bottles. It would apply to obvious objects, such as a beer bottle, but also to a hip flask, a thermos flask, a carton of milk and a bottle of scent. No doubt there are other bizarre examples.

The prohibition on a controlled container is an instance of the Government going too far in an attempt to deal with a mischief. There are three reasons for saying that. The Bill provides that it is an offence to possess intoxicating liquor at a designated ground. For obvious reasons, one cannot possess intoxicating liquor unless one also posseses the container to hold it. Therefore, once there is a prohibition on the possession of intoxicating liquor, with that is an effective prohibition on the possession of a container.

If we consider the classes of container to which the prohibition applies — thermos flask, milk carton, and so on — we immediately realise that those are not the sort of objects likely to be thrown. I accept that people who are drunk might want to throw a beer bottle, but they are caught by the prohibition on intoxicating liquor. The sort of people who come to grounds equipped with a thermos flask, a carton of milk or a wife's bottle of scent would not wish to throw missiles.

The Bill is capable of being extended widely. For example, it could be extended to cricket matches. I can understand that the Committee might take the view that, because a football match is of relatively short duration, it does not matter if people are stopped from consuming liquid during the match, unless they go behind the stand. But what happens if that is applied to racing, to Henley or to cricket? The prohibition would become oppressive. for example, one could not have a bottle of coke or a thermos flask or drink a milk shake. That would be an example of the Government going too far — yet the opportunity to do so is contained in the Bill.

Therefore, I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister that this is an instance of the Government, out of an abundance of caution, introducing legislation that is neither necessary nor desirable.

12 midnight

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I should like to speak to amendment No. 21. My concern is that there is excluded from the definition of "controlled container" anything that is used to hold a medicinal product within the meaning of the Medicines Act 1968. That is fine, because we must cover St. John Ambulance people, the Red Cross and others present at football matches to render first aid. However, it is within the knowledge of those who have to enforce the law at football matches that once a medicine bottle has been emptied, possibly for a perfectly good reason, and is then discarded, it can become the very thing that we seek to prohibit — a missile. It can be thrown.

Therefore, it is important that when we exclude something containing a medicinal product, we are sure that it contains medicine and will not be used to injure somebody else. If a hooligan got hold of a full medicine bottle, or a syringe — although I am not certain that a syringe comes under the Medicines Act — and threw that bottle, it would cause just as much damage as a beer or milk bottle. It is not what the bottle contains that matters, but the damage that it can do. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister of State will look at the intention of amendment No. 21.

Mr. Ashby

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will bear in mind two points. First, I am disappointed, because I thought that the directors would be able to have a cup of tea at half-time, but I think that the teapot and the cups would be designated as containers, and they would not be allowed to have them.

Secondly, one essential amendment will have to be made in the other place. No game is complete without a gentleman on the sidelines with a bucket and a sponge. An amendment will have to be moved to permit a bucket and a sponge to be on the pitch so that people who are injured can receive that little bit of water that seems to do them so much good. That is essential.

Mr. Jim Lester (Broxtowe)

I have one brief point to make with regard to missiles. People have been injured by £1 coins that have been thrown at goalkeepers. Where does one finish?

Mr. Pike

I recognise that there are difficulties on the amendment. The hon. Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) referred to other sporting events. I do not want to pursue that line, because I hope that we shall not reach the stage where the Minister has to extend designated grounds to sports such as cricket, rowing, and so on. One hopes that those crowds continue to behave responsibly and that the football crowds will return to doing so.

The hon. Gentleman said that a football match lasting an hour and a half was not long, and that perhaps it was not necessary to have a drink. With respect, in my part of the country, where it is cold in the winter, a cup of tea or soup from a thermos flask is a common thing for supporters to have. I have no doubt that if they cannot take that soup or hot drink along to have at some stage of the game, some spectators, particularly in January and the colder spells of the season, will be deterred from going to the sporting event.

I recognise the difficulty of dealing with the alcohol problem and how to determine what is in a thermos flask, but I hope that the Minister will accept my point. I know that the south can get cold weather, but in the north, on open terraces in the winter, a hot drink of soup is welcome to many spectators. At many grounds, if there were a large crowd, it would not be possible for all the spectators to buy a hot drink from the facilities at the club. Therefore, many would depend on being able to take in a thermos flask.

Mr. Humfrey Malins (Croydon, North-West)

I understand what the Government are trying to do, but I hope that we shall be able to ensure that fathers will be able to take their sons to football grounds and have a flask of soup or whatever and that the lady who has her bottle of perfume will not be guilty of an offence. The way round the problem may be to alter clause 2(1) to read: A person who has intoxicating liquor or, without reasonable excuse, a controlled container". That would mean that a person would not automatically be guilty of an offence. The use of the words "without reasonable excuse" would enable people to plead not guilty if they had something straightforward such as soup or perfume. That would achieve what the Government want, so could those words be inserted?

Mr. Chope

The Bill would not be dramatically weakened by the removal of references to controlled containers, bearing in mind that containers with alcohol in them would already be excluded by the Act, if the Bill becomes law. I was concerned to read a summary of the Bill in The Times that described a controlled container as any bottle, can, or other portable container designed to carry liquid, but medicine is excluded. Obviously police will be expected to exercise their discretion. Loose definitions that lead commentators to say that police will exercise discretion as to whether to arrest somebody who, for example, has a thermos flask with him, bring the law into disrepute. If Members of Parliament, or a member of the legal profession or anybody who does not have a criminal record commits an offence, he does not want to rely on the good sense and discretion of the police not to arrest him because the law was not sensible. It would be better if the Government thought again about this part of the Bill, bearing in mind that it does not go to the root of the mischief with which the Government are seeking to deal — alcohol abuse outside football grounds.

From the notes on clauses, it seems that the justification for this clause is that controlled containers do not amount to offensive weapons within the meaning of the law. The notes on clauses make it clear that if somebody had an object with him that he uses, or intends to use, in an offensive way, that will be against the law.

Why pick just on thermos flasks and other similar containers? What about people who take fireworks on to the terraces? What about people who take banners on to the terraces? These often have poles attached to them, and are in themselves often provocative and obscene. The Government could think more clearly about this, and have a specific clause dealing with offensive weapons and objects that could be used offensively. They could be dealt with separately from this clause, which deals with intoxicating substances.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I ask my hon. Friend the Minister a couple of questions so that I do not have to intervene in his speech. First, if, quite lawfully, following an exemption that has been granted by a magistrates court, a football ground is allowed to serve drinks in those areas that are out of the view of the pitch, those who go to get their drink will have to receive it in something. Do I take it that they will be able to receive it only in what one can only call soft containers, and that the club will not be allowed to serve alcohol in glasses or cans or anything like that? I hope that that will be the condition of the magistrates court granting the exemption.

Secondly, there will be a real practical problem if thermos flasks were to be excluded from the clause simply because it is not beyond the wit of man for those who wanted to circumvent the Act, if the Bill becomes law, to take booze into the ground by carrying it in their thermos flasks. One cannot ask the police or the club to have to require people to open their flasks so that the contents can be checked on.

Mr. Giles Shaw

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), in his final observation, put his finger on one of the problems that we face, which is to provide reasonable restraint as defined in the Bill against the misuse of containers. The use of containers can be extended substantially, without much intellectual effort, to include a range of articles which in one sense are containers and which when empty are articles which, potentially, can be used for offensive purposes.

We must recognise the problem of offensive weapons being used in football crowds. Their use has become all too frequent during matches. Indeed, it has been discovered that £1 coins are used as offensive weapons. The misuse of containers is a problem and the Scottish Act includes definitions of "container" primarily to deal with the offensive nature of the problem as well as to exclude alcohol being brought into a ground in a container.

We shall not be doing a service to the general provisions of the Bill if we seek to dilute the problem that we face with the misuse of containers once they have been emptied of something that might be lawful to take to a match. If the trainer's bucket is to be a plastic one, that might satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) and the trainer. Such a container is unlikely to be used for an offensive purpose and we shall have to ensure that it is kept full of water. In that way it would be used for the purpose for which it was intended.

Mr. Ashby

There is a problem, because an absolute offence is being created. There is no excuse, and whether the bucket is plastic or any other material, its use will be an offence. That is as sure as night follows day.

Mr. Shaw

Unless it is used for medicinal purposes. Football trainers have a number of containers which they use for various purposes. For example, aerosol sprays are widely used by trainers and others who attend those who are hurt, so called, in football accidents, but they could be used as offensive weapons. They would be caught under this measure but for the fact that they could be regarded as part of the medicinal needs of those who operate as trainers.

We must be sure that the interpretation of this provision is sensitive to the needs for which it is designed to apply. The example that was directed to cricket is one that we must examine carefully. The Scottish Act has been on the statute book for some time, and it is enforced in a country with quite a cold climate in which a thermos flask, for example, might be used frequently. As I understand it, such containers have not caused a problem. However, I take the point and we shall have to consider carefully whether we have things right. I hope that I take the Committee with me on the importance of dealing with containers which can be misused and at the same time dealing with containers of alcoholic liquids.

Mr. Ashby

I hear what my hon. Friend says, but a lady with a handbag containing a bottle of perfume will most certainly be guilty of a criminal offence if the Bill becomes law in its present form. This is an extremely serious matter. I do not see how the guidance that is issued to the police will overcome the problem. We cannot pass a law which says that someone is definitely guilty of an offence without a defence and then advise the police not to enforce it. I ask my hon. Friend to comment specifically on that. Secondly, he has not covered my point about acting without reasonable excuse.

12.15 am
Mr. Shaw

That is a helpful observation. We do not want to make it impossible for a person to carry a container which has a legitimate purpose. However, containers can be misused. I shall consider what my hon. Friend has said.

Mr. Malins

We should try as hard as we can not to have absolute offences. They are obnoxious. The House always makes every effort, when legislating, not to create absolute offences, but to legislate for the guilty mind, or mens rea. The amendment provides for mens rea and suggests a better form of offence. We should do everything possible to avoid absolute offences.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I listened carefully to my hon. Friend the Minister of State. I distrust what he said about there being certain circumstances in which it might be necessary to ameliorate the rigour of the law by guidance. He is saying that we are about to introduce a criminal offence, but that if we find it is oppressive someone will whisper to a police officer that it should not be enforced too strictly. I am against that.

Hon. Members have given examples, some of them flippant, of articles which could be described as a "controlled container". Because we have proceeded to the Committee stage so soon, we have not exhausted the range of articles which will fall within that definition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) mentioned the bucket at the side of a pitch. I suspect that articles in an ambulance would fall within the definition of a "controlled container", but they will not be saved by the provision in subsection (3), which refers to "medicinal" products within the meaning of the Act. I suspect that some containers which we want to be within a ground will be caught by the Bill. I understood the Minister to say that he was prepared to look again at the definition of a controlled container. If he is giving such an undertaking, I should be pleased to withdraw my amendment.

Mr. Giles Shaw

We have to ensure that we secure the main objective, which is to prevent people from entering a ground in possession of alcoholic drink in containers which, if misused, could cause injury and thus become offensive weapons. Some containers made of light plastic, such as a lady's scent bottle, might come into that category, although a plastic bottle is likely to be less injurious than a metal bottle. The point made by my hon. Friend is that we need to clarify what is meant by an offensive container. I shall examine that.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker)

We now come to amendment No. 9, with which it will be convenient to take amendments Nos. 10, 11, 18, 22, 29 and 31.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I do not wish to speak to amendment No. 9 as it deals with ground that the Committee has already covered.

The Chairman

If amendment No. 9 is not moved, the other amendments fall.

Mr. Denis Howell

So that we may debate amendment No. 22, I will move amendment No. 9 formally.

Amendment proposed: No. 9, in page 2, line 21, leave out from 'time' to 'when' in line 22. — [Mr. Denis Howell.]

The Chairman

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 10, in page 2, line 21, after 'time', insert 'up to one hour before or one hour after or'. No. 11, in page 2, line 23, leave out `the' and insert 'an'.

No. 18, in page 2, line 29, after 'time', insert 'up to one hour before or one hour after or'. No. 22, in clause 3, page 3, line 27, leave out subsection (3) and insert— '(3) Where any part of the premises from which designated sports events at the designated sports grounds are concerned, it shall be a condition of the licence that intoxicating liquor shall not be sold or consumed from a period within 30 minutes of the commencement of the sporting event and until 30 minutes after its conclusion.'. No. 29, in clause 6, page 6, line 16, after 'time', insert 'up to one hour before or one hour after or'. No. 31, in clause 7, page 6, line 26, after 'time', insert 'up to one hour before or one hour after or'.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I think that I can be almost as economical and helpful as my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg). I put down my amendments without having studied sufficiently carefully the later interpretation clause in which the Government have made it clear that they would expect the event in question to cover a period of two hours before as well as two hours after play. If the Government are satisfied that that period is sufficient to cover the bringing of alcohol in to a ground I shall not press those amendments.

Mr. Giles Shaw

The arrangement in the Scottish legislation was for one hour before and one hour after play. That is why it is in this Bill. There is no other reason. If my hon. Friend believes that the period should be longer than one hour, I shall be happy to listen to his reasoning.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Clause 9(4) states: The period of a designated sporting event is the period beginning two hours before the start of the event".

Mr. Pendry

I shall speak briefly to amendment No. 22, as I know that other hon. Members also wish to speak to it and as I raised many of the points that it covers on Second Reading.

As the Committee stage unfolds it is becoming clear that those of us who argued for more time to consider these matters — especially for the Government — were right. I suspect that my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench are now kicking themselves for having agreed with the Government as much as they did.

The Government really must yield on amendment No. 22. It is an all-party amendment in the names of Members who are genuinely concerned with soccer and know something about its problems. Even now, the Minister seems not to appreciate the impact that the Bill will have on clubs. They need the corporate market as much as the money from the turnstiles. They need to cater for members on the terraces as well as for the corporate market, but the one helps the other and they need both to improve the facilities at grounds. The Minister will be held responsible for altering the structure of football with this blunt instrument in a way that those of us who in another context are arguing for verticalisation or rationalisation of the structure of football greatly regret, because it means that some of the best clubs will go to the wall as a result of the Bill while others which perhaps do not deserve to remain in existence may survive.

The basic premise of the amendment is that little alcohol is consumed at football grounds. The three matches that led to the introduction of this legislation were played at football grounds where alcohol is banned. Although the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) represents the Police Federation of England and Wales, I do not believe that he is arguing the case that the police in charge of football grounds would argue. They would prefer drinking to take place in football grounds so that they can take corrective action if they see that people are getting drunk.

We must be even-handed and ensure that this does not become a class problem. The Minister of State may introduce a new element of hooliganism if he is not evenhanded. It is no use for the Minister to ask football clubs to put their house in order. He made the ridiculous suggestion that private boxes should be turned round to face the other way. This would involve football clubs in additional expense. He must face the fact that he is barking up the wrong tree.

Football clubs need their executive boxes to provide the revenue for the one hundred and one things that the clubs are being asked to do. The 19 clubs with executive boxes, and other clubs, are doing all that the Government are asking them to do. They are providing closed circuit television, computers and better policing, security and safety precautions. The Government must not underestimate what football is doing. During the last few years it has not been blind to what has been going on and it is doing something about it. If the Minister follows the game, as some hon. Members do, he will know that a new kind of leadership is developing which is adopting a much more constructive approach to the game.

The amendment attempts to be even-handed. It recognises that the consumption of alcohol at football grounds is not a major problem, yet it attempts to meet the Government more than halfway by providing that when a game is in progress, as well as half an hour before and half an hour afterwards, the ground will be dry. Clubs will still have sponsorship and executive boxes. They would not be able to operate in the same way but they would still be able to gain revenue.

The amendment is a compromise. It meets many of the Government's points, but it also deals with the problems that face football clubs. The needs of the 19 football clubs, which generate through these activities over £4 million, will not be met by the Government. They have turned their back on helping football. They will not allow part of the money that is generated by football — for example, football pools — to be ploughed back into the game. They must be fair to football, and this is a way in which the Government can be fair.

I accept that the amendment will pose a problem for the Government. The designated sporting event will have to be redefined to include half an hour before and half an hour after the game. That is not impossible. An amendment could be moved to that effect in another place. The amendment would introduce equity, a point that has been mentioned a number of times, and would ensure that the football world recognises that the Government have listened to the points that have been made and that they are prepared to be flexible and to make adjustments. We should examine how, with an amended Bill, the requirements of the Government, the football world and the general public can be met.

Mr. Lester

I do not know whether this is the right time to debate general principles. The development of sponsored boxes has not changed the fact that most football clubs do not have public facilities for drinking. We are not changing the class structure, which means that the punter cannot drink but the person in the box can, as that has been the case ever since the boxes have been built.

The Chairman

Order. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman's comments might not be more relevant to the next group of amendments.

Mr. Lester

I shall endeavour to catch your eye on the next group of amendments, if that is your guidance, Mr. Walker.

12.30 am
Mr. Denis Howell

I am sorry to disappoint you, Mr Walker, but I need to speak on this group of amendments. The Government are attempting to obtain equity as between the consumption of liquor in private boxes and in bars around the ground, but they have done so in a way which could impose heavy fines on football clubs.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and some Conservative members think that they can meet the Government's desire for equity, which we share, by other means. The ingenious means proposed is the application of licensing laws and times to football grounds. I cannot see why the Government are being so obstinate about such a proposition.

The police and everyone else have experience of the known times under licensing laws beyond which it is illegal to buy or consume drink. The police operate that law throughout the country in thousands of public houses and private clubs. It is beyond me why we should not apply the same logic to football clubs. Moreover, it gets us off the hook by achieving equity by a means which is not financially ruinous. I should have thought that the Government would have welcomed that.

On Second Reading, the Minister said that people who want to drink can go behind the box to a place out of sight of the terraces. We are talking about boxes in which three-course meals might be served before a match because Imperial Chemical Industries, for example, wants to entertain guests with a reasonable meal. A Home Office Minister constantly invites me to go to Fulham football club and to enjoy such a meal with him. I am very grateful to him. I have not yet been able to take up his very kind and generous offer, but it is the normal way in which hospitality is provided in these boxes.

If the Minister is right — he obviously thought it was far-fetched, but, applying his own logic it is not — I would first have soup. If I then wanted white wine to go with the fish course, I would have to jump up, leave the box, nip behind and have my glass of white wine out of sight and return for the fish course. When I had finished the fish course, which I would have to eat without drinking wine, I would have to go through the same procedure for the main course; go out again to get a glass of red wine before having the beef or the lamb. This is absurd.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Not a glass.

Mr. Howell

"Not a glass," says the hon. Gentleman. It is worse if I have to drink red wine out of a cardboard carton. Such a wretched proposition I would have thought not even this Minister would put before the Committee.

Mr. Lester

Would not things be more acute if we both went to the match after the meal and the right hon. Member chose to drink whisky and I chose to drink dry ginger? He would have to go behind the screen and drink his whisky, whereas I could drink my dry ginger and watch the match.

Mr. Howell

I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman could, subject to what the Minister tells me. If the hon. Gentleman is right, because he is having a non-alcoholic drink—

Mr. Ewing

In a container.

Mr. Howell

It would have to be in a container which was not likely to be injurious or broken. The hon. Gentleman is right. It is absolute nonsense.

Ninety-nine per cent. of people going to football matches are not going to be involved in the drink problem. We all agree that the drink problem occurs outside, not inside, grounds. It is outrageous to impose these absurdities on decent people who want an afternoon out at a football match and to enjoy a drink and a meal while they are doing it. That is the first of the Minister's gaffs, and I urge him to think again about it.

We want equity. There should be no difference between the working man on the terrace having his half pint with his pie and people in boxes having wine with their meals. They should be treated with equity, but we must do it in a way which does not affect the revenue of the organisation we are trying to protect. We may find it difficult to get a cure for the disease, but that is no reason to kill off the patient. The Government are doing something akin to saying to a gentleman, "You are overweight. We want you to slim, but as you are having difficulty, we will amputate your leg in order to get you down to the right size." That is the solution that the Government seem to be producing.

Mr. Giles Shaw

Am I to understand from what the right hon. Gentleman is saying — which admittedly is in relation to an amendment about time — that he is asking for a review of the provisions in this Bill in so far as they affect private boxes? The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that the measure currently being debated has been brought forward after discussion with the right hon. Gentleman and his and right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and representatives of other parties as an agreed measure. He will be further aware that in the discussion apropos the part dealing with this particular issue — the provision of private boxes — it was a matter of real concern to his right hon. Friend the member for Gorton that the matter be dealt with in the way that it is currently before the Committee.

Mr. Howell

The Minister of State was not present, but he will know that when we took part in discussions with the Home Secretary we urged him to deal with the problem as proposed in the amendment. The Minister of State is right to point out that we urged the Home Secretary to make sure that there was equity. We said that there should not be discrimination between the man sitting in the sponsor's box and the man on the terrace. There would be incitement if someone on the terrace who was not allowed to drink could look into a box and see people drinking. That would be provocative.

The Chairman

Order. I do not want to restrict the right hon. Gentleman in any way on this point, but I must remind him that the amendments before us deal with time and that they are to be followed by a group of amendments that deal with private enclosures and boxes. He ought not to anticipate the debate on the next group of amendments but should confine his remarks to the amendments that are before the Committee.

Mr. Howell

I am in a little difficulty, because I have to respond to what the Minister of State has fairly put. I am not complaining about him referring to private discussions that have gone on between the two sides. I am trying to explain how the matter arose. We all want equity on the basis that it does not penalise clubs financially.

Even though I have been party to an agreement with the Minister — an agreement that was reached before the matter came before the Committee — I would not be so presumptuous as to stick to that agreement, ignoring completely anything that might be said in the Chamber that should cause us to think again. That is the rather arrogant attitude that is now being taken by the Minister. I hope the same attitude is not taken on this side of the Committee. If it were, I would condemn it equally.

There is no point in having a Parliament unless the Government are prepared to listen to what is put to them and to say, "That is a convincing argument. We should consider it." Even though I have reached agreement with the Minister, it would be presumptuous of me, having heard other arguments from the football authorities and from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, to say that I will not move one iota from the position that we took up seven days ago.

Earlier, when many of us suggested that we needed a levy board, the Minister said that the football authorities could set up a levy board if they wished to do so. This is only a small point, but it needs to be corrected. As the Horserace Betting Levy Board is a statutory body, the same would have to apply to football—

The Chairman

Order. Whatever the merits or demerits of that argument, I hope we will not get into it on this group of amendments.

Mr. Howell

I promise not to repeat on the next group of amendments what I have just said, but I hope that we can then have answers to these questions if we cannot have them now. They are fundamental to the good will we want from everybody if the Bill is to succeed.

Mr. Giles Shaw

The amendment is in the name of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) is concerned with the arguments that he touched on during the Second Reading debate about the relaxation of controls in the Bill on the sale and supply of alcohol to occupants of boxes and restaurants. This is primarily the purpose for which the hon. Gentleman is moving the amendment.

I still do not accept that it would be right to do this. I must maintain again that where a club has been granted an exemption order in appropriate terms it would still be possible for box occupants and anyone else to have drinks in areas that are out of sight of the pitch. That is a reasonable facility in view of the arguments that have been advanced in other quarters for a total and absolute ban. The biggest single difference, as I think the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde will concede, between the 1980 provisions affecting Scottish grounds and those currently before the Committee is the exemption procedure.

12.45 am

I realise that in the amendment the hon. Gentleman is referring to the suggestion that a licensing procedure be introduced on a time scale, so that instead of the designation of a sporting event being two hours prior and one hour after — and I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) for confusing the issue and saying two and two — he is seeking to reduce it to half an hour prior and half an hour after. The reason for which he is doing that is primarily to enable the provision of entertainment and facilities in sponsored boxes to continue for a futher period of time, and also, in consequence, to allow alcohol to be provided in other parts of the ground for a longer period before the designated restriction would apply.

In seeking to deal with alcohol as an element in the problem affecting crowd behaviour within sports stadiums, we are minded to follow the Scottish Act. It is that Act, its availability on the statute book for some five years which has enabled the Government, with the agreement of the Opposition parties, to bring the measure before the House in a short time.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) raised a separate point. What he was seeking to do in discussions with my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary was to argue that this should be part of the agreed legislation to come before the House. I am not aware that that was the case in the discussion that took place. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I was not a party to the discussion, but I have consulted my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State and it is his view that the provision of the principle that there should be a reduction in the time to enable, as it were, a licensing system to apply, should not apply to the Bill. I would go further than that. There was —[Interruption.]

Mr. Denis Howell

I shall not tolerate that kind of behaviour from the Home Secretary. It is outrageous that he should attempt to shut me up.

Mr. Shaw

What I am concerned about is that we would be seeking to depart from the principles of what was an agreed piece of legislation. I am aware that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members and my hon. Friends have tabled an amendment relating to boxes and their designation. My answer to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde on this proposition is that in all conscience I cannot square it with the determination to reduce the provision of alcohol within designated sports stadiums at designated sporting events, because that would be the effect of the time reduction that he proposes. As he knows, this is major provision in the Bill and it is a matter which would affect not just the private box provision. A limited number of clubs, albeit first division and perhaps some second division clubs, enjoy a substantial income from this source.

If a way could be found of ensuring that income would not be significantly reduced I should be glad to hear about it, provided that it was consitent with the principles of the Bill which we have so assiduously sought to discuss and agree with all parties in the House in relation to England and Wales. That is the problem that I have at this juncture, and if the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde presses the amendment to a Division, I shall advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to reject it.

Mr. Denis Howell

I do not want to prolong the difficulty which has arisen, but the Home Secretary obviously advised the Minister of State how to reply on a matter which arose in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's absence, and he is wrong. That being so, I object to the right hon. and learned Gentleman waving me down and virtually saying that I should keep quiet. I did not introduce the subject of our discussions. It was introduced — I made no complaint about it — by the Minister of State in response to a point that I had made.

At the first meeting, when I was present, we asked the Home Secretary to take away and consider what is now amendment No. 22. That is what I said. I know that at a subsequent meeting when I was not present my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and the Home Secretary reached agreement. That is what I said, and I am not complaining about it. But I went on to say that, in view of the fact that we had had representations from the football authorities and hon. Members on both sides of the House, it would be churlish in the extreme if a possible way out of this dilemma were not taken on board because agreement had been reached between the two Front Benches.

Mr. Brittan

indicated dissent.

Mr. Howell

I do not know why the right hon. and learned Gentleman shakes his head. I am sure that he does not want to appear to be saying to the Committee, "We don't care tuppence about anything that any hon. Member says, because the two Front Benches have reached an agreement." That is the effect of what the Home Secretary is doing, and I for one disapprove of it.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

It is a long-standing and very good tradition of the House that when hon. Members refer to documents that have not been laid before the House of Commons, they are normally expected to do so.

The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and possibly my hon. Friend the Minister of State are referring to some discussions that are outwith the knowledge of the Committee. I know that this happens and that it is necessary for the orderly conduct of the business of Parliament that it should happen. I do not complain about it, but I find it tedious and unparliamentary that there should be argument back and forth between the two Front Benches about who said what in private discussions that are no part of the Committee's business. I object to it. But if the Home Secretary says that the amendment now being debated was not part of those discussions, I, and I am sure the whole Committee, will accept what he says.

Mr. Pendry

I found, as I hope other right hon. and hon. Members did, that the Minister's reply was very unsatisfactory. I do not really care whether my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) or the Home Secretary is right. What is clear is that a cosy deal was made to which the rest of us were not party, and perhaps this is the time when we should all protest. This is an all-party amendment. It was tabled genuinely, in ignorance of what was going on between the two Front Benches, as a way forward out of a difficulty.

I believe that the wording of the Scottish Act, which of course comes into this proposed legislation, is one of the reasons why we are getting into difficulty. When discussing this legislation, any comparison between the two countries is quite erroneous. The position in Scotland is quite different from that in England and Wales.

Since the Minister's reply was very disappointing and since it appears that even the cosy deal which was or was not made is causing friction between the two Front Benches, I urge Back-Bench Members on both sides of the Committee to see the validity of the case put forward and to vote for the amendment.

Mr. Pike

There is one other matter at which I hope the Minister will look again. There is some doubt about the meaning of the present drafting, and in my view amendment No. 22 would make some improvement. A later part of the Bill refers to the sale of alcohol being consumed an hour after the advertised time of the end of the match; but the amendment, which states half an hour after the conclusion of the event, is far clearer. Matches do not always finish on time. The start can be delayed. Therefore, problems could arise from the present wording.

For the many reasons given by my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), I hope that the Minister will agree to consider the matter further. If he is not prepared to do that, I shall Śupport the amendment.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

I understood the Minister to say that while he could not give a formal undertaking to reconsider that particular provision, he was receptive to representations designed to protect the income of the clubs, at present derived from executive boxes, provided that it would not damage the Bill's main purpose. Although I put my name to amendment No. 23, which has considerable force, I should be content if the Minister made it clear that he would be receptive to representations from the industry and would try to meet its wishes, provided they did not prejudice the main purpose of the Bill.

Mr. Giles Shaw

It may be for the convenience of the Committee if I were to clarify the matter. When I commented on the amendment, I said that I understood the concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) about the threat to the income from sponsored boxes at clubs. However, I pointed out that a later amendment related to that specifically, whereas this amendment referred to the designated time of the sporting event. I regard this as a separate and broader issue. I am not persuaded that I should do anything other than advise the Committee to reject the amendment.

Mr. Pendry

I am not entirely persuaded, but I can see from nods from my colleagues that there may be more hope in not pushing this amendment and awaiting the outcome of amendment No. 23 than by dividing on it. On that basis, and showing the sort of flexibility that I am asking the Government to show, I shall not press the amendment.

Amendment negatived.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 2, line 23, leave out from 'ground' to 'or'.

The Chairman

I understand that it is desired not to proceed with amendment No. 15, so with amendment No. 12 it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 13, in page 2, line 23, after 'viewed', insert 'unless that area forms a completely separate and closed section of the ground where direct contact with those spectators in the external viewing area is impossible for the duration of the event'. No. 23, in clause 3, page 3, line 29, at end insert 'unless that area forms a completely separate and closed section of the ground where direct contact with those spectators in the external viewing area is impossible for the duration of the event.'

Sir Eldon Griffiths

This is a fundamental amendment, as it touches on the entire mischief of the Bill, which is that we are seeking to ban alcohol at football matches, except in that part of the football ground from which the football match cannot be seen. If one cannot see the pitch, one may obtain alcohol and drink it there. I am unable to understand the logic of a Bill which seeks to ban alcohol at football grounds, but not in areas from which one cannot see the pitch.

Without getting into the broad area of principle, I shall put some practical considerations. Does the whole pitch have to be excluded from vision from the area where it will be permissible to serve, possess and drink alcohol? What happens if one can see a bit of the pitch — say, the corner flag or the goal mouth at one end? I have been to many grounds where, from the bar, the view of the pitch is almost entirely excluded, but a bit of it can be seen. I suppose that the Government intend the provision to mean that the totality of the pitch should not be visible. It is important to make that clear.

1 am

Enforcement is the problem. If one goes round the back of the stand, one will be able to buy drink in areas where the magistrates courts have agreed that an exemption should apply. A number of young fans will be apt to obtain liquor, get themselves charged up and then, when excited by the drink that they have obtained from the bar at the back of the stand from which they cannot see the pitch, indulge in exactly the kind of behaviour that has caused the problem. I cannot understand why the Government have taken the view that people should be able to continue to buy, drink and possess liquor, provided they do that out of sight of the ground, but not he able to do so within sight of the pitch.

Mr. Ewing

The hon. Gentleman is missing the point. Should a person get drink from behind the stand and then indulge in violent behaviour, that would be one sure way of guaranteeing that an exemption would not be granted again.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I appreciate that, and I take it that in the first instance the magistrates will not lightly grant an exemption if they have reason to believe that it will be abused. I have confidence in the good sense of magistrates. Nevertheless, exemptions will be granted and there will be occasions when young people going round the back of stands will be able to obtain liquor and, however much the hon. Gentleman may hope otherwise, as I do, there will be occasions when that will spark off the violence with which we are seeking to deal.

The hon. Gentleman goes on to say that, if that happens, the club will not get a licence a second time. We want to deal with the problem now, not say that there will be another means of dealing with it should it recur. The Bill should be clear and say, "There shall not be alcohol at sports grounds, no matter where it is served." That would be logical, comprehensible and enforceable. I question the enforceability of a measure which says, "You can go round the back of the stand and get drink, but if you come in front of the stand, you are in trouble." I do not see how the police will be able to operate such a provision. The amendment would simplify matters by avoiding a distinction between those areas from which one cannot see the pitch and where one can get drink and those areas from which one can see the pitch and where one cannot get drink.

Mr. Pendry

As the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) permitted me to deal with the last amendment and himself refrained from commenting, on this occasion I shall remain silent and allow him make the running.

Mr. Lester

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) should accept that those who have been going to football matches for the last 20 years recognise that the Home Secretary has allowed the vast majority of clubs that have been operating in a perfectly civilised manner to continue to do so.

Because it is not sensible to have a public bar, as there is not enough trade at the interval, most clubs do not have a public bar. They have supporters' clubs, which are important to the future of football. It is an important element of football that after the match, people go to the supporters' club, meet the players, talk together and feel part of the team. Equally, we have members' bars where people who support the club financially have a bar which is away from the sight of the game. These bars are useful, before and after the game, and such a bar can get an exemption.

I agree that there is the anomaly of whether one can see the game. The problem of introducing this new concept based on the Scottish Act is that, since the law was passed in Scotland, sponsored boxes with a sight of the game have been created in an effort to develop football in the United Kingdom. They do not exist in Scotland. This is a new feature to help football raise its standards and income and to find money for improvements, which we all support. Therefore, I support amendment No. 23.

My objection is that the law as it stands does not recognise this change. There is no significant difference in terms of equity. At the vast majority of clubs, as I have said, the punter cannot get a drink in the public bar because public bars are not available, but people in private boxes can have a drink. The anomaly will arise because this change in the law will be unenforceable.

It seems funny that, if the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and I were watching the same match, under the existing law, as I understand what the Home Secretary said on Second reading, if I drank a dry ginger out of a soft container I could sit at the front of the box and watch the match, but if he drank whisky he would have to go and stand behind the screen. I do not envisage that that will create any problem for the punter looking up at the box because, if I have a glass in my hand, he will not know whether it is dry ginger or whisky. It is unenforceable unless the police come and smell what I am drinking and say, if it has spirit in it, that I am guilty of an offence but, if it has not, that I am not guilty of an offence.

The amendment appears not to recognise that the English situation is different from the Scottish. It does not require the contribution to football and the raising of standards that the executive or sponsored boxes have created or that this is a class matter. Most of the boxes of which I know are taken by local industrialists in an effort to support their club. The boxes are available to the members of their firms, and not only to the directors but the trade unionists. They use them on the same basis that one sits in one's private house.

Mr. Tony Banks

The Bill does not threaten the existence of executive boxes. The hon. Gentleman is saying that, unless drink can be served in executive boxes, people will not pay what are very large sums to use them. I think that does not necessarily follow, the amount of money that clubs derive from the sale of alcohol in the grounds is relatively small. The money is derived from the rent paid for executive boxes.

Mr. Lester

It is not reasonable to expect people who come to a box as guests to be told that they are all right as long as they drink lemonade. One says that there is a refrigerator which has a range of drinks.

Reference has been made to boxes which seek to serve meals. It is anomalous and unnecessary to say that if I go to a cricket match I can have a meal, watch the cricket and drink wine with it, but that if I go to a football match, if I want to drink wine I have to stand behind a screen. We are trying to stop the influence of alcohol on people who cause offence in football grounds. I know of no case in which a person has got blind drunk in an executive box and gone downstairs and thumped somebody. This is overkill to a degree that will make the law appear ridiculous. If we do this, we will defeat the object of all hon. Members, which is to clean up football, make it a decent family game and stop the influence of alcohol outside the ground—everybody knows that this is what really causes the problem — with the resultant damage and problems which we are now debating.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman, with his experience, help me? As I understand it, the Goverment are insisting that drink in the executive boxes should be out of sight of the rest of the spectators because there would be fury and discontent if many people who were denied the opportunity to have a drink could see others sitting in boxes having a drink. The Government have accepted that, and it is the gravamen of making it out of sight of the pitch. What it really means is out of sight to the spectators—that is to acknowledge that there is an inequity.

If the law were to say—as my hon. Friend wishes—that it is right for the executive box to have the liquor, and then a group of people feeling angry about that literally make siege of the box demanding the liquor, what would the police do? Would they defend the privilege of the executive box with its liquor against those demanding to have it?

Mr. Lester

It is not an offence to sit at the front of the box and drink dry ginger. If someone was sitting with a glass in his hand, I would not know what was in the glass. It is not the act of sitting in the front of the box and drinking that is the offence, it is what is in the glass. No one knows unless the police smell every glass that they can see. It is not an offence to have a soft drink in the glass.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

It is an offence if it is visible.

Mr. Lester

No, it is not an offence to be drinking a soft drink. I think that my hon. Friend the Minister will confirm that. That is why it is an anomaly. The existing position has never caused a problem. I have never seen any problem at any match that I have attended where those on the terraces have objected to what they might or might not see in the sponsored boxes. It is an anomaly that needs to be rectified.

Mr. Ewing

I want to comment on the points made by the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). It is right to put on record that when this provision was introduced in the Scottish legislation—I shall not bore hon. Members with the Scottish experience—it was to take account of the fairly large number of clubs in Scotland which have social clubs, perhaps not inside the grounds but in parts of car parks that they no longer require.

On Second Reading the Minister made an interesting remark when he said that Berwick Rangers would be covered by this legislation and not by the Scottish legislation. Berwick Rangers is located in England but plays in the Scottish league. It has one of the finest social clubs that I have seen throughout the length and breadth of the country. It is excellently run. However, it is hard up against the grandstand. There is no way that anyone in the club can see the play. If the amendment were accepted, because the club is adjacent to the ground, anyone could be guilty of an offence, even if he was leaving the club to go home. That person might not want to go into the ground. I beg hon. Members not to underestimate the number of times that a man comes out of a social club and, instead of going to the football match, goes straight home. That is the purpose of the provision, and it is useful.

East Fife football club built new dressing rooms and converted the old dressing rooms—which are only an arm's length away from the touchline—into a social club. The whole of the side facing the playing fields was built up so that no one could see the ground. Again, because it is adjacent to the ground, anyone coming out of the club with a container or with alcohol would be guilty of an offence.

The provision in the Bill is valuable. Whatever the Government do about the executive boxes—I concede to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) that we have not had to wrestle with that problem in Scotland—I wish them well, but I beg them to keep in the Bill the provision relating to social clubs, which are often built on ground not needed by clubs but put to good use.

1.15 am
Mr. Giles Shaw

The amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths) would have a major effect on the Bill, by creating a virtual ban at designated grounds during designated events. I can see the simplicity that he has in mind, and on Second Reading he made that case forcefully. However, it is necessary to have the arrangement as in the Bill.

The hon. Member for Falkirk, East (Mr. Ewing) spoke in favour of the provision, and I am of the opinion that it is necessary to retain it. Although it appears to be cumbersome, it is useful to have this provision. We are in the business of seeking to reduce the incidence of disorder. A total ban would be entirely appropriate. If there were wide availability, and disorder, it would not be easy to obtain an exemption the next time round.

I refer now to amendments Nos. 23 and 13, in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) and the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). I made oblique reference to the matter before, and it relates particularly to private sponsored boxes. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee are aware of the substantial nature of the business that they generate. I said previously that it was of concern to the Government that action would be taken which might ultimately be to the detriment of the game itself. The argument put forward by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friend is that, through the generation of income from those facilities, major amounts of money are being recycled to the benefit of the game. However, at the initiation of the discussion I made it clear that we started from the premise of the game being in such disorder and disrepute, because of the ghastly events that have taken place, that a rehabilitation process is what we are seeking to achieve. This measure is one contribution.

My hon. Friend's point is important. Estimates have been made by the Football League that the £4 million of revenue is significantly at risk—possibly as much as 75 per cent. of it. That has to be recognised as a substantial guess. The exemption procedure is the big difference between this measure and the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980. We do not know how effective it will be in allowing some consumption, and sponsorship and commercial interest in still supporting the game, although not in the same character as hitherto. I have no great knowledge of the game, but my view is that, where clubs are faced with such a difficulty, it is remarkable how flexible they can be if they believe that significant amounts of money are at risk.

I have already got into some hot water with my hon. Friends in saying that there are ways in which it would be possible to allow facilities for drinking in sponsored boxes provided that they were out of sight of the pitch. That is the crucial distinction, which also applies under an exemption order to bars in other parts of the ground serving the terraces and so on. That is an important possibility, although I recognise that in many clubs the layout or size of the boxes may make partition difficult.

It may mean, for example, that some boxes at the Tottenham ground will have to be closed for bar purposes, whereas other boxes will be used for viewing purposes. I use this to illustrate the fact that I do not think it is unreasonable for the Government to say that the scale of the threat to the ability of clubs to generate sponsorship is not known, although it has been suggested that it is considerable.

It is right that we should look closely at the performance of this aspect of clubs' activities during the coming season. If it is the case that there is a major fall in the sponsorship income, to the detriment of the game, as has been suggested, it would be possible for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary to consider, in the vehicle of the public order legislation, whether an amendment might be carried which would have a beneficial effect on the problem.

It would not be reasonable for us to accept the argument now, when we do not know what the consequence will be. We shall not be able to carry out the provisions of the amendment, unless through an agreed procedure with those who have been generous with their consultation on the Bill. I could not unilaterally agree to the amendment on behalf of the Government.

Therefore, it is better that I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe and to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde that we take note of the real problem that could appear if the worst fears of the league are shown to be correct, and the best way to do that is on the basis of hard evidence. It would be possible to make amendments through legislation at another time, if it could be shown that that was required.

Mr. Pendry

The hon. Gentleman said that he would want to monitor the situation. What time does he need to come to an interim judgment, if not a final one?

Mr. Shaw

We are on the verge of the new football season, from the middle of August. It would be sensible if we saw the Bill in action over the most part of this coming season, or at least half of it. I understand that the season lasts for some 10 months. That might allow us, if we were so minded, and after discussion with those who are party to the decisions, to introduce amendments through other legislation. However, I cannot guarantee what the results of that monitoring will be. The hon. Gentleman can take it from me that we shall monitor this because we recognise that if football were to be starved of funds for its improvement and rehabilitation, that would be a worry.

Mr. Lester

I was trying to make a serious point about the enforceability of the law. If it will not be illegal for people to sit at the front of a box and watch a football match and drink a soft drink, but it will be illegal for somebody to sit in the same position and drink a soft drink with whisky or gin in it, the principle of equity will be violated, leading to annoyance. It will be an anomaly if this law cannot be enforced. I hate law that is not enforcible. This is a salient and important point with which we have to deal tonight, otherwise we shall pass the law and have the problem.

Mr. Shaw

We are dealing with legislation the purpose of which is to restrict the sale and provision of alcohol at football grounds. I understand that non-alcoholic beverages will be freely available. I am concerned to ensure that the provision is passed in its present form, as it is likely to have a significant effect. If we start to widen exemptions to take account of the timing of a sporting event, the availability of alcohol will be increased in a crucial manner. In principle, that does not commend itself to me.

Mr. Pendry

I should like to know what the Minister of State is monitoring. I concede that he has introduced the first glimmer of a concession, but what will he be monitoring? There is no history of the problem.

Mr. Shaw

I trust that the hon. Gentleman will recall that the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) expressed great concern over the fact that the revenue from boxes was of a magnitude unknown to him when he was involved in previous discussions. The figure of £4 million was unknown to me until recently. The threat of the reduction of revenue has been posed relatively recently, and it should be capable of being monitored during the next season.

Mr. Denis Howell

The Minister of State has made an acceptable response that goes far to achieving what we want. The monitoring exercise will ascertain the possible loss of revenue for the clubs.

It must be recognised that the leases of the boxes will not come to an end at one particular moment. Some leases will expire at the end of the coming season, some in August, some in 12 months' time and others in two years. Although the Minister has not accepted the laudable and intelligent approach of amendment No. 22, he is prepared to reconsider his position if the financial effects on the clubs so demand. I acknowledge that what he or his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary does will be the result of consultation with all those who are involved. It is important that we reach agreement while understanding the real problems. If it is possible to review events as they develop, when we consider the next measure that the Government intend to introduce on this issue—we hope that it will be placed before us later in the year—a considerable improvement will have been made to the Government's initial approach.

Mr. Pendry

Surely there cannot be a short period of monitoring. Many firms have already paid their money to a club for one, two or three seasons. There will be no real reduction in revenue in a short period. On reflection, the Government's monitoring exercise will be meaningless.

Mr. Howell

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's view, in the sense that only a few boxes will be up for negotiation now. There will be more in 12 months' time and yet more in two years. However, the Government have moved slightly from their original position towards the approach that I advocate, and I welcome their response in that sense. It is important not to leave things where they are.

Mr. Hicks

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that although monitoring applies to an existing situation, it does not apply when clubs are thinking about making new investment in executive boxes?

1.30 am
Mr. Howell

Yes, but I have less sympathy with that view because any club wanting to build a new box would comply with the new legislation. A club would build a fixed partition. I accept that anomalies exist, but we are trying to make a law work. Any club considering building a new box would be plain daft not to include a division so that wining and dining could take place in the back and viewing in the front.

Amendment No. 23 puts us in considerable difficulty. It distinguishes between different categories of people drinking at a football ground which I would find unacceptable.

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Loughborough)

That is what we have now.

Mr. Howell

I know; but this is the reason for discussions and why the Government have tried to meet our objections. The Government recognise the need for equity in the arrangements at football grounds. Under amendment No. 23 people could drink in private boxes in view of the pitch, but not drink at a bar on the terrace in view of the pitch if they want a half pint with their pie. That is offensive to the principle of equity, and it might even be provocative. I do not argue with the Government's attitude to the amendment.

Mr. Pendry

It is amusing that my right hon. Friend should try to make out a logical case for the Bill. At grounds not far from here the man on the terrace can buy a drink at a bar round the corner from the pitch, whereas those who are trying to ensure that entrance fees are kept low by paying their share of £600,000 to keep a club in being cannot.

We are trying to ensure that football survives under this terrible Bill. I am surprised that we do not carry my right hon. Friend with us. In order to survive, clubs need the revenue to regenerate the game. There is no equity in the Bill. We are trying to ensure that money stays in the game So that clubs are able to make the many necessary improvements.

Mr. Lester

Hon. Members are trying to introduce equity where it does not exist. What about the man who consumes soft drinks at the front of the box and the provocation that might cause?

Mr. Howell

If the Bill is passed in its present form and someone has a soft drink at the front of the box, everyone will know that it is a soft drink because it could not be anything else. I do not think there is anything in that point.

Equity is extremely important. I am sorry that this difference has arisen, because I accept that the Government have sought to meet us on this matter. But in seeking equity as between the arrangements in private boxes or directors' boxes and in the public bars on the terraces the Government have adopted an approach which puts in jeopardy a considerable amount of money. I wish to achieve equity in a different way, on a time basis, but it would be tedious to go over that again now. If people can drink in a box from which they can see the pitch but not in a bar from which they can see the pitch, that will be offensive to many people and may well be harmful. To their credit, the Government are trying to avoid that.

If we cannot carry the Government with us on the time argument at this stage, I believe that we should accept their offer to look at the matter again, to monitor it constantly and to come back to it when the new Bill is introduced. That is better than the position from which we started. It seems to be as far as we can take the Government at this stage, I recommend that we accept that. In any case, if my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) wished to press the matter to a Division, it would have been better to do so on amendment No. 22, albeit against the advice of the Opposition Front Bench, rather than on amendment No. 23. I advise my hon. Friends to accept the offer that is on the table, because it is the best that we are likely to get at this stage.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

This will be my last contribution on the Bill. As one who had a measure of responsibility for sport for about four and a half years, I find it immensely depressing to hear the proposition advanced that the future of our national game depends almost entirely on directors being able to drink in private boxes and that if they cannot do so all the great industries which have sponsored our national game — because, I had always assumed, they regard it as helpful to their advertising and sales—will withdraw their sponsorship and the game will collapse. I do not believe that the entire future of our national game turns on the revenue from drinks in the director's box. Despite all its problems, football is far more robust and resilient than that.

For the past hour or so we have heard about the problems of a few hundred or perhaps a few thousand directors and their pals—[Interruption.] The people who inhabit the directors' boxes—

Mr. Pendry


Sir Eldon Griffiths

I shall not give way, as I want this to be my last contribution, but I shall allow any amendment to my choice of phrase that any hon. Member requires. My point is that we are dealing with the creature comforts of a comparatively small number of the football population. I am more concerned about the hundreds of thousands of fans on the terraces. It is their interests which should be occupying the House, not just the interests of a few hundred perhaps more important and influential and certainly better off people. The interests of the few should not be our principal concern.

What are we talking about? During the past hour we appear to have been talking about the problems that will be created for football if, for one reason or another, private boxes are unable to earn as much money in the future as they have been able to earn in the past, and as much as they hope to earn if there are more of them. I thought that the Bill was about something else—about tens of thousands of people having been knocked about and terrified on football terraces, the police having been bombarded with missiles, large numbers of people having been severely injured and the reputation of our country having been severely damaged because drunken fans have behaved in a fashion that is the opposite of sportsmanship. However, the amendments appear to suggest that the real problem is that we are not dealing with directors' boxes in a proper way.

The amendment relates to a small, self-indulgent minority—

Mr. Lester


Sir Eldon Griffiths

Yes, I used that phrase intentionally. During the past few years they have failed to put football's house in order. The main purpose of the Bill is to protect the law-abiding majority of people who want to go to football matches with their families and not be set upon by drunken hooligans. I hope that the Government will make short shrift of the amendment and stick to the main issue, which is limiting the availability of alcohol at football grounds so that violence and national shame are not inflicted upon this country.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is here at a very late hour. I do not understand the division of the prohibition on alcohol between that which can be obtained out of sight of the ground and that which can be obtained in sight of the ground. The latter is to be prohibited, the former is not. Equally, I do understand the arrangement whereby if the directors' box is facing away from the pitch one can drink, but if it is facing towards the pitch one cannot drink. That is inequitable and unintelligible to the ordinary football fan, and it will be unenforceable.

My right hon. and learned Friend has promised that there will be an exercise to monitor whether private boxes suffer a reduction in revenue. I should like him to offer another semi-pledge to the Committee — that he will monitor the working of the Bill in the other direction and demonstrate that he is even handed. I hope that he will assure us that he will come back to Parliament and seek to amend this legislation if, as a result of booze still being freely available, albeit out of sight, at football grounds there is yet more rioting and violence and people are knocked about. There is as much danger of the legislation going wrong in that direction as there is of its going wrong in the other direction—the directors' box.

Amendment negatived.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 to 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Back to
Forward to