HC Deb 24 July 1985 vol 83 cc1047-60 3.53 pm
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You have expressed your concern in the past—most recently yesterday—about reports to this House being made available in advance to the media. I understand that the report of Mr. Justice Popplewell's committee of inquiry into safety and control at sports grounds, about which there is to be a statement, was made available yesterday to the media under an embargo. I checked at the Vote Office at 11 am and was told that the report was not available. I was also told that there was no indication of when it would be made available to hon. Members. I was subsequently informed that it was made available at or about midday.

As the report relates to very important matters, not least to the death and injury of our constituents, many hon. Members can see no good reason why reports to this House should be made available to the media under an embargo but should be denied to Members of the House until hours before a statement is to be made, thus putting us in a very poor position to put questions to the responsible Minister on a report which was made available to the media long before it was made available to hon. Members. Can you please, Mr. Speaker, do something to ensure that Government Departments stop this practice, which causes considerable annoyance to all hon. Members?

Mr. Speaker

I am not certain that I can do much more than continue to express my sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said, and with what was said yesterday and previously. It is a matter for the Government, not for me. However, the Leader of the House is here and will have noted what has been said.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Leon Brittan)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Perhaps I should say that I regret what has occurred. The plan was that the report would be published at 10.30 this morning, which I hope the House will feel would have given hon. Members enough time to consider it carefully.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement. The Government have today published the interim report of the inquiry into safety and control at sports grounds under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Popplewell, established following the tragic fire at Bradford city football ground, and the events at Birmingham city on 11 May. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are both deeply grateful for the speedy, clear and thorough way in which the chairman and his two assessors have tackled this difficult and important task.

The inquiry concludes that the Bradford fire was probably caused by the accidental dropping of a lighted match or cigarette or tobacco on to accumulated rubbish below the stand; that had the guide to safety at sports grounds—the "green guide"—been complied with, the tragedy would not have occurred; and that the riot at Birmingham — which the police could not reasonably have foreseen—was caused by spectators bent from the outset on violence. No one reading the report, or who followed the public hearings in Bradford, can doubt that the inquiry has investigated these matters as thoroughly as possible.

The inquiry makes 32 recommendations, eight of which are provisional. They fall into two groups: those concerned with safety and those concerned with control. I am making available separately a written statement dealing with each of the recommendations.

The safety recommendations include several designed to improve arrangements at sports grounds by, for example, improving evacuation procedures, the training of stewards, the provision of fire-fighting equipment and increasing the scope of safety certificates. In all those cases the Government will be inviting the local authorities, the police and the sports authorities to respond immediately to the spirit of the recommendations. The Government will issue a fresh edition of the guide to safety at sports grounds, the green guide, in the light of the inquiry's final report. But they will also ask certificating authorities and the police, in exercising their powers to take full account of the recommendations for amending the green guide, before the issue of the new edition. There is no need for them to wait.

On crowd control, the inquiry has made a number of important recommendations concerning membership cards and closed circuit television, the creation of new criminal offences relating to smoke bombs and the throwing of missiles and the need for a more suitable police radio.

On membership cards, the inquiry recommends that urgent consideration be given by football clubs in England and Wales to introducing a membership system so as to exclude visiting fans. Also recommended is that closed circuit television be introduced at league football grounds. The Government strongly support the television recommendation, and have already made clear their support for a scheme of membership cards to help exclude troublemakers. A Football League working party is considering the options and I would urge the league and the Football Association to take heed of the recommendations of the inquiry by seeking jointly to reach positive conclusions at the earliest practicable date.

It is also proposed that new offences should be created making criminal the possession of smoke bombs in football grounds and the throwing of missiles. This proposal will be carefully considered for possible inclusion in the public order legislation that the Government hope to introduce next Session. The Directorate of Telecommunications at the Home Office will also consider, as a matter of urgency, how best to meet the concern expressed about the personal police radios used at Bradford.

In its provisional conclusions, the inquiry states that it is minded to recommend changes to the provisions of the Fire Precautions Act 1971 and Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975; that the police be given additional powers of search and arrest; and that consideration be given to the creation of a specific offence of chanting obscene or racialist abuse at a sports ground. We shall, of course, consider with care any recommendations that the inquiry makes on these and other points in the final report.

I hope that it will also be convenient for me to bring the House up to date on matters relating to safety and control since my statement on 13 May. First, under the Safety at Sports Grounds Act I have designated all the qualifying grounds of clubs in divisions 3 and 4 in the Football League in England and Wales, as well as in divisions 1 and 2 of the Rugby League. The necessary orders were laid on 19 July and come into force on 9 August. From the latter date, clubs will be required to apply for safety certificates before admitting any spectators. I have made it clear to the certifying authorities that the expectation is that they will work swiftly, normally by means of issuing interim certificates. In some cases, the best way of providing immediate protection— while also reducing the costs of implementation — may well be to restrict attendance ceilings in grounds or parts of grounds.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has decided for his part not to proceed at present by extending designation in Scotland beyond its existing limits. However, he has arranged for all non-designated clubs and all governing bodies in sport in Scotland to conduct an urgent review of ground safety in co-operation with their local fire authorities.

Secondly, all uncertificated grounds of the third and fourth divisions of the Football League, of the first and second divisions of the Scottish Football League, and of the first and second divisions of the Rugby League have been inspected as a result of the request that I and my right hon. Friend made to chief fire officers and firemasters. In addition, accommodation for spectators at the larger cricket grounds, Rugby Union grounds, race courses, motor racing tracks, greyhound tracks, tennis clubs and athletics grounds has been inspected.

Chief fire officers and firemasters have sent copies of their findings to the management of the sports grounds showing what remedial measures have to be taken. In some cases, this will involve the complete closure of a stand until rebuilding or remedial work has been completed. In other cases, strict limits are being placed on the number of spectators allowed into the stand. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport will be looking further at the financial implications with the interests concerned in his working group on the financing of safety improvements. Managements have responded in a cooperative way and have either set necessary work in hand or are considering how to comply with the requirements. Local authorities and local fire authorities have sufficient statutory powers to ensure that essential fire safety requirements are complied with. These will in no way be affected by the separate proposals directed towards streamlining the present law on fire precautions published yesterday in a consultative document and which I am inviting the inquiry also to consider in the context of its work.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I are grateful to chief fire officers and firemasters for the prompt, efficient and careful manner in which this survey has been carried out. A digest of the reports will be submitted to the inquiry.

Thirdly, the House will, of course, be aware of the rapid passage through both Houses of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Bill. It will be in force by the beginning of the football season.

Fourthly, steps have also been taken to enhance police effectiveness next season. In England and Wales the Association of Chief Police Officers has introduced a new system for exchanging information about the conduct of fans, which should assist in anticipating and preventing trouble. Three of the Home Office photographic vehicles will be available to be deployed at football matches, together with two experimental high-definition tripod-mounted cameras. This is in addition to the £500,000 worth of closed circuit television equipment purchased through funds provided by the Football Trust.

Fifthly, my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport has helped to promote and draw up a Council of Europe convention on spectator violence which was adopted by the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers yesterday.

There is no single, simple method of making sports grounds safe and free from violence, but I believe that the steps taken in the past few months, coupled with the implementation of the important recommendations of Mr. Justice Popplewell's inquiry, have already made, and wall make, a significant contribution towards preserving football as a major spectator sport.

Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)

This report makes profoundly depressing reading. We must pay tribute to Mr. Justice Popplewell for the care with which, in the limited time available to him, he has looked into these matters. The account of the events leading up to the Bradford fire is particularly heart-rending in the aftermath of Sunday's moving memorial service. The description of what took place in Birmingham is a sickening catalogue of mindless violence and brutality.

We need to know what can be done urgently to present such outrages and tragedies from happening again. In that context, the press handout accompanying the report is simply impractical in declaring: The Committee has produced an interim report so that safety levels can be improved quickly before the start of the new football season in August". The new football season begins in just over three weeks and, although the report contains a number of useful and sometimes important recommendations, hardly any of them could be implemented and have a noticeable effect in time for 17 August.

For example, recommendations about improving the efficiency and increasing the responsibilities of stewards assume that stewards can be trained to be some kind of super-efficient elite corps. Anyone who knows the real world of football stewarding knows that this is more easily said than done. The report points out that in Bradford, for example, the ages of the stewards ranged from 73 to 12.

Again, the report's recommendations on installation of perimeter fencing does not resolve the two conflicting roles of such fencing as, on the one hand, a protection of the pitch against hooligans and on the other a prison penning in potential fire victims in circumstances of panic.

Certain recommendations do not seem to have been thought through. For example. the proposed ban on all cars being parked within a quarter of a mile of football grounds means that law-abiding householders will be prevented from parking their cars outside their homes. This will affect my constituents, for example, and no doubt many thousands of other people.

Again, immediate designation of all sports grounds with a capacity of 500 or more as recommended, could affect 50,000 small grounds. Is this remotely practicable? Again, there are serious doubts among the football authorities and the police about the principle and practicality of two Popplewell recommendations— that of admission by membership tickets only and that only registered supporters of home teams should be permitted to attend games. This is an unprecedented proposal with serious implications, which Mr. Justice Popplewell does not seem to have considered.

Even if we set aside these issues, has anything been done about such recommendations? We are now nearly two months beyond the time limit set by the Government for practical schemes for membership cards to be introduced by the football authorities. Nothing has been decided and all that we now get from the Government on this are further pious hopes, expressed by the Home Secretary.

Again, only limited progress has been made for plans to install a universal system of closed circuit television and the funds available from the Football Trust do not begin to match the need here.

Most of Mr. Justice Popplewell's other recommendations have been met by the Home Secretary only with vague expressions of good will. People will be "invited" to do this, "consultations" will take place on that, "consideration" will be given to the other. Some points have been noted, others are to be studied. Hopes are voiced. The Government express their readiness to stand by.

The problem of fascist involvement, with which the report deals in disturbing detail, is not confronted by the Home Secretary. While the report has an excellent and well thought-out description of the nature of violence that we encounter in our society, and makes it clear that the violence in football grounds is only a manifestation in one group of places of the violence that is inherent throughout our society, Mr. Justice Popplewell's terms of reference preclude him from making any recommendations on this matter. We have heard nothing from the Home Secretary today about this profoundly important issue. But, above all, the press handout on the report admits that the inquiry did not deal with financial questions. Of the 24 immediate recommendations of this report, 13 require immediate and substantial outlay or entail serious financial consequences. There are no proposals from the Government to deal with that problem, only an examination to take place on some unspecified date. Even the most prosperous clubs, and they are few enough in number, do not have adequate resources to carry out the recommendations contained in the report and which the Government appear to endorse in principle. The Football Trust simply does not have the money left to fund these proposals.

The only solution is the equivalent of the Horserace Betting Levy Board, a football levy board, which will return to the game some of the massive revenues that the Treasury extracts from it. That is the approach of the Labour party and that is what it advocates, because pious hopes will not provide remedies for the serious problems vividly described in this report. What we need is action and that is not what we are getting from the Government.

Mr. Brittan

Many people outside the ranks of Government supporters will be disappointed at the carping response of the official Opposition spokesman to these proposals. The response was not only carping but inconsistent. On the one hand, the right hon. Gentleman calls for the expenditure of substantial sums of public money and urgent action, and on the other hand he objects to some of the recommendations in the report because they are unprecedented. He must make up his mind about whether what occurred this year illustrates a situation that is unprecedented and that requires action, or one to which conventional solutions can be applied.

Of course the financial questions are important and, as I indicated in my statement, my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport and his working party are engaged in discussions about those. It is a misrepresentation both of Mr. Justice Popplewell's report and of the Government's response to it, to imply that nothing can be done or that nothing is being done in the short term. Opposition Members were as anxious as anyone and more anxious than some that Mr. Justice Popplewell should make an interim report. I indicated that he was most welcome to do so and that it was up to him to decide whether he thought that would be useful. He did so decide and he was right. It is in the nature of things that when an interim report is produced within weeks, its recommendations cannot be instantly implemented. But it does not follow from that that it is not worth doing, because the implementation process can be started that much earlier.

The report contained specific recommendations about fire precautions related to the green guide and its contents. I have said from the Dispatch Box that, although we are producing a new edition, those recommendations should be regarded as the guidance of Government from this moment on. The right hon. Gentleman thinks it is clever to talk in a carping way about some things being recommended and others being subject to guidance. Some of these matters, such as safety, are not determined by Government issuing detailed edicts affecting the whole country: they are determined by local authorities considering applications in accordance with Government guidance. I have had no complaints that that guidance has not been followed, because invariably it has been.

In announcing today that that guidance will be varied in accordance with the recommendations in Mr. Justice Popplewell's report, we are operating in the proper way to ensure that safety requirements are properly complied with in the light of the new recommendations. For the right hon. Gentleman to suggest anything else may score a few cheap political points, but it will lead people who are attending grounds to have unnecessary anxieties, and it does less than justice to the inquiry and to the local authorities who will implement this report.

Similar considerations apply to the other matters raised by the right hon. Gentleman. Everybody realises that the recommendations about the training of stewards and perimeter fencing cannot be implemented instantly. In matters such as training, it is obvious that the earlier the recommendation is made about what should be done the better and the sooner an improvement will come. I ask the House to take the view that this report is necessary. It is by definition a partial view of the position, but it makes important and valuable recommendations, which are being pursued vigorously and urgently.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I draw the attention of the House to the fact that there are two other statements after this and a ten-minute Bill. This is an important Back-Bench day and I ask for brief questions, please.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that I welcome the report and his statement? Both are condemnations of the state of many football grounds and many spectators, and fully justify the tough line taken by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and by the Minister responsible for sport. Will the Home Secretary press ahead and ask the football authorities to implement as many of the excellent recommendations as possible? Will he have further consultations about the controversial issue of membership cards and the designation of all sports grounds?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. There will be consultations. I hope that the House will feel that membership cards have a useful part to play in crowd control. Plainly, that is not a view held only by the Government, because it was authoritatively supported by Mr. Justice Popplewell and his inquiry. It is therefore incumbent upon the football authorities to consider the different options and to press ahead urgently. I welcome the fact that the Football League investigation into these matters will produce a report in September. I hope the Football Association will also feel able to enter into discussions on this important matter.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

We on the Liberal Benches welcome the recommendations of the Popplewell report. Before the Home Secretary introduces new and largely unworkable legislation, which could jeopardise the traditional appeal of our unique national game, will he not think again about encouraging local authorities to operate more closely with football clubs and try to find a solution in that way? The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) suggested a levy board. Would the Home Secretary accept that if only 10 per cent. of the money spent on transferring, buying and selling footballers had been spent on improving grounds we would now have the best stadiums in the world?

Mr. Brittan

I entirely accept the last point made by the hon. Gentleman. It is a fair point. I also agree that cooperation between football authorities and local authorities is important. He referred to the traditional appeal of football, but one cannot help thinking rather wrily and sadly of the events on 11 May. They were indications that not all that infrequently the traditional appeal has turned into something rather more horrific. In the light of that we have to contemplate action which is regrettable but wholly necessary.

Sir Paul Bryan (Boothferry)

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in trials following the violence in the coal strike it proved difficult to get convictions, despite acts of obvious violence? Will he bear those difficulties in mind when shaping the legislation and the steps he proposes to take to deal with violence at sports events?

Mr. Brittan

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. That is an important point to take into account. Sometimes it is a question of the law, but more often it is a question of law enforcement and the availability of evidence. The introduction of closed circuit television in some 30 grounds, coupled with the availability of the Home Office equipment I have referred to, will be an important step in that direction.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Is the Home Secretary aware that while much of the Popplewell report will be welcomed by the football world, much of it bears all the hallmarks of an interim report, in that the judge and his assessors did not have time to look at the many and diverse problems facing football?

Is the Home Secretary aware that the football world will be particularly critical of the blanket membership card scheme and the banning of away supporters? Are the Home Secretary and Mr. Justice Popplewell convinced that if my team, Derby County, came to London, I should not go along and give them a cheer? God knows they need it. That is not practical and it is not on.

Is the Home Secretary aware that on behalf of the all-party football committee I presented to Mr. Justice Popplewell a membership card scheme for away supporters that is much more practical than the scheme that he is offering?

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said, if any or all of the proposals are to be implemented by the football clubs, the Government cannot stand from giving them the necessary financial assistance, whether through a levy board or other means. Otherwise, the Home Secretary will go down in history as having helped to kill off our national game.

Mr. Brittan

I do not think that the House will find it surprising that an interim report bears all the hallmarks of an interim report. That is inevitable and right and proper. Mr. Justice Popplewell carefully takes heed of that inevitable fact by distinguishing between firm recommendations and provisional recommendations. That seems to be a sensible approach. He and the rest of the committee will reflect on the provisional recommendations and consider them further as they proceed with their work. No doubt others will comment on them.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned membership card schemes. Mr. Justice Popplewell does not suggest that the proposal referred to by the hon. Gentleman is the only one or that it is free from difficulties.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

It is the one that Popplewell recommends.

Mr. Brittan

It is indeed, but Mr. Justice Popplewell points out the difficulties and suggests that there are other approaches. The right course is for the football authorities to look at the desirability of schemes in the light of the report and I hope that they will come forward urgently with practical, sensible positive and enforceable proposals.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that most reasonable people will feel that his response to the report is a reasonable balance between practicality and urgency? Is not there an essential contradiction in the view of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) that the Government should take immediate action and his statement that the Government are proposing action that cannot be implemented within three weeks?

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend is right. The right hon. Gentleman's response was riddled with inconsistencies.

Mr. Madden

What practical steps is the Home Secretary taking to implement the recommendation: There should be urgent consultation between the Health & Safety Executive and the fire authorities and the local authorities as to how best to coordinate and communicate their inspections and reports"? Is the Home Secretary aware that many of the recommendations call for all these bodies to spend money that they do not have and for work to be done by officials whom they do not have, because local authorities have had their incomes reduced by the Government and many have been reorganised, usually ending up with less manpower than previously?

The Home Secretary accuses the Opposition of carping criticism, but does he not understand that he and his Government stand accused of complacency, with a maximum of talk about these matters and a minimum of positive action?

Mr. Brittan

I do not accept that for a single moment. The fact that action is being taken is made clear by, for example, the fact that among third and fourth division football grounds, five stands have been the subject of local authority recommendations for closure pending further work and seven grounds have been recommended for reduced spectator capacity. The suggestion that none of this has any practical impact does not stand scrutiny. As for the form of co-operation and consultation recommended in the report, there is nothing in any of the financial measures introduced by the Government that prevents that from occurring.

Mr. Geoff Lawler (Bradford, North)

I pay tribute to Mr. Justice Popplewell not only for the prompt way in which he produced his report but for the sensitive way in which he conducted his inquiry. I know that that view is felt strongly in Bradford. I am sure that the chairman and directors of Bradford city would not seek to deny that points made in the report, which says that much of the action required would have been taken if the necessary resources had been available. Therefore, as the burden of ensuring that a similar tragedy never happens again must now fall jointly on the Government and football representatives, will the Government speed up negotiations with the football representatives to ensure that clubs can take the necessary measures and have the necessary financial resources to do so?

Mr. Brittan

I am sure that my hon. Friend's remarks about Mr. Justice Popplewell and his inquiry will be all the more appreciated because of my hon. Friend's distinguished involvement in the aftermath of the tragic events. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport is sitting on the Government Front Bench and he will certainly take my hon. Friend's comments into account in his deliberations.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

May I press the Home Secretary on what my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) said about money? My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and I have both been told by the chairman of Chelsea that his club cannot even afford the computer that will be necessary to bring in the desirable modifications. Where is the money to come from? Chelsea is one of the richest clubs.

Mr. Brittan

The idea that there is no money available is belied by the fact that about £7 million has been disbursed by the Football Trust in recent years, and the point made by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) is not without force. However, it is not for me to judge the financial capacity of the football world to deal with these matters. I have said clearly that the financial aspects of the matter are being considered by my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport and his working party, and all these matters can be looked at.

Mr. Colin Moynihan (Lewisham, East)

I strongly support the excellent interim report, but will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that it is not the Government's intention to give one-off capital grants to football clubs for safety improvements, as that would unfairly discriminate against many other businesses — professional football clubs are businesses — which pay from their own resources for putting the safety of their employees and the public at the top of their priorities?

Mr. Brittan

My hon. Friend's comments will assist the Minister responsible for sport in appreciating that there is more than one view of these matters.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The Home Secretary is, of course, aware that the report deals with Elland road football ground, the home of Leeds United, which was in my constituency for 20 years and is now in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), who is in Leeds today and on whose behalf I am speaking. I live within a quarter of a mile of the ground and I hope that I will not he stopped from parking my car within a quarter of a mile of the ground.

I welcome the report. Whatever is said by Popplewell, the report will need time for implementation. I only hope that the clubs, the local authorities and the police in every area are sitting down now planning what they will do from 17 August. I do not believe that, even when Popplewell produces his further report, his proposals, desirable as they may be, will deal with the problem

There are three things about Leeds United, the club which I support. In Birmingham, so-called Leeds supporters had pickaxes and wore swastika armbands. They came to the ground drunk. It needs more than Popplewell. I have stood outside Elland road in the past when we had real crowds. What is wrong with society? The report talks about containment; there is something radically wrong with some of the spectators that go to these grounds. We ought to be looking at the causes of it and not just how to stop it.

Mr. Brittan

I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman says and I welcome the fact that he recognises the value and importance of an interim report which proposes practical measures but was not designed to address the wider issue of the cause of football violence. I am sure that any attempt to do that would not have led to the practical proposals that have come forward.

I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the sort of discussions and planning that he commends are taking place throughout the country and specifically in west Yorkshire at the moment.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

While partially accepting some of the recommendations made by Mr. Justice Popplewell, such as those relating to identity cards, television help and so on, I must express to my right hon. and learned Friend my concern that the report seems to put the whole responsibility for what is basically a social disease on football. May I draw to his attention paragraphs 6.55 and 6.58 on punishment? In paragraph 6.55, Mr. Justice Popplewell says: I believe there is a good deal of justification for this view"— that is, that many people think that the sentences are not stiff enough. He goes on to quote Lord Justice Lawton in January 1984, and says: We infer that those who have a propensity to use violence are not deterred by fines or by orders imposing only a limited restriction on liberty. Can we have an assurance from my right hon. and learned Friend that the Government will consider the recommendations and come before the House in the autumn with some much stronger measures that deter hooligans so that we do not face such problems in the future?

Mr. Brittan

I am sure that my hon. Friend would not wish to misrepresent, however inadvertently, what Mr. Justice Popplewell said on these matters. In fact, he said: While the independence of the judiciary of the executive is an important feature of our constitution and courts must feel free to impose in a particular case a sentence which they consider appropriate, it is worth repeating the trenchant words of Lord Justice Lawton". He then quotes the words of Lord Justice Lawton. In other words, the learned judge is drawing to the attention of the community, and commending, the fact that Lord Justice Lawton pointed out the circumstances in which it was proper and possible to impose severe sentences in cases of the kind which my hon. Friend has in mind. The ability of the courts to respond to that guidance is shown most notably and helpfully perhaps in the Cambridge case, when very severe sentences were imposed.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Although I realise that the report does not deal with Northern Ireland, I welcome the general tendency of it, and observe that we are learning from it. May I press the Home Secretary to comment a little further, following his answer to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry), on a membership system to exclude visiting fans? I am positive that there are those who come from Scotland, there are certainly those who come from Northern Ireland, and there are others who come from other parts of the world, who would like to be able to see decent football. Rather than hindering genuine, visiting spectators, should not more attention be given to dealing with the social problem of those who, even as home fans, disrupt society, rather than penalising visiting fans?

Mr. Brittan

I appreciate what the hon. Gentleman says, but what Mr. Justice Popplewell is saying in that recommendation is that things have reached such a pass in football with regard to football violence that it is necessary to consider taking a measure which otherwise in principle would be intensely undesirable and which would certainly, if implemented, prevent people from doing something which hitherto they have rightly and properly wanted to do. That is a recommendation which cannot be ignored or set aside. The judge explores and explains fully the difficulties, and discusses some of the alternatives. I think it behoves us not to carp at the particular recommendation, but to address the problem and the way of solving it which the judge identifies.

Mr. Jonathan Sayeed (Bristol, East)

I join in the general congratulations to Mr. Justice Popplewell on the depth and speed of the report, but I take issue with recommendation 20 on membership cards. As gate money is important, particularly to the smaller clubs, and as that gate money comes from regular supporters of the home team, regular supporters of the away team and casual supporters, it is surely damaging to smaller clubs to take away two parts of that gate money. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would be better to have a national membership scheme, and does he join me in regretting that the governing bodies of the sport have consistently prevaricated and procrastinated? One factor that has necessitated the report is that those bodies have not put their house in order. They are now asking the Government to do it for them.

Mr. Brittan

I do not wish to use the opportunity to criticise anybody, but it is an objective fact that the recommendation in the report relating to membership cards has to be seen in the context of a rejection by the football authorities of a national membership scheme of the kind that my hon. Friend commends. What Mr. Justice Popplewell would have said if they had vigorously pursued such a scheme and implemented it, or what he might now say in his final report if they consider the proposal and say, "This is not any good, let us revert to a national scheme", is a matter for speculation today but, I hope, for serious consideration tomorrow.

Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)

Will the Government specifically consider giving financial assistance to struggling third and fourth division clubs? For example, Newport county, as a result of an inspection of its ground by the authorities, has been told that to bring the ground up to safety standards will cost no less than £260,000. If it receives a 75 per cent. grant from the Football Trust, this will leave a sum of between £60,000 and £70,000 to be found, which is money that it just does not have.

Mr. Brittan

I recognise the difficulties identified by the hon. Gentleman, but in many situations it is possible that the clubs concerned have capacity that they do not use in full and that partial closure is, at least in the interim, an option that should be considered.

Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh)

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take an early opportunity to refute the suggestion that the Government would make any public money available to this so-called sport? As for the correlation made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) between horse racing and the betting levy board, he just does not understand a word of what he is saying. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) that, until the football authorities have the same sort of control that there is in racing, then really there is absolutely nothing that the Labour party has to say on the issue.

Mr. Brittan

I agree with my hon. Friend to the extent that I think the first responsibility is on the football authorities and those who run clubs to make them safe. The Government can introduce legislation relating to the criminal law and to public order, and the learned judge can make a report, with recommendations on safety and other matters, but none of that should divert attention from the fact that the primary responsibility belongs to those who run the game and invite people to attend matches.

Mr. Robert Maclennan (Caithness and Sutherland)

While I recognise that many of the recommendations of the Popplewell inquiry cannot be implemented immediately, can the Home Secretary at least give an assurance that on 17 August clubs will not be opening which do not satisfy the necessary safety requirements?

Mr. Brittan

Clubs which open by then will. if designated, have had to apply for a certificate before that day.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels (Leicester, East)

All Football League and Football Association clubs must surely welcome the recommendations of the report. However, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with me that many of these clubs are unlikely to carry out those recommendations either before 17 August or later in the year? Can we get them to put their own house in order so that they unlock the turnstiles and kick out those people who just do not behave? Will he join other hon. Members and support the suggestion of a national identity card, which is the only way to kick out offenders, by keeping a central register?

Mr. Brittan

I have not spoken unsympathetically about that proposal, but more generally it will not be an option open to clubs involved in these matters simply to ignore the recommendations, because legal obligations will be imposed upon them by designation, to name but one example.

Mr. Peter Pike (Burnley)

Will not the Home Secretary recognise the serious concern that will be felt in many clubs in the country if the proposal on membership cards has to go ahead? Not only will there be severe financial and administrative costs, but this will be a deterrent to the casual supporter who may well become a regular supporter. Will he not recognise that it is an infringement of civil rights to stop the genuine supporter travelling to the away match just because of the hooligan element in society? Is it not a serious indictment of society if the Government have to move along those lines? My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and I met the London branch of Burnley football club supporters this morning. There are 37 such clubs that support provincial clubs in London. How will they be affected, because they are made up of loyal supporters who travel all over the country, as far as Aberdeen and Plymouth, to see the teams they support?

Mr. Brittan

The hon. Gentleman talks about civil liberties. I do not think that that is involved here. It is open to a club to decide whom it wishes to admit. It can decide to admit members only. On the financial advantages and disadvantages, many clubs may feel that if they can convince communities that they can attend football matches safely, the financial advantage from more people coming to watch the games will far outweigh any disadvantage resulting from implementing measures necessary to bring that about.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

When considering the recommendations of the report may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to bear in mind that there are clubs such as Scunthorpe United in my constituency which are the backbone of the football league? Is he aware that they have an average gate of between 2,500 and 3,000 people throughout the season, so that the recommendations on visiting fans and the work necessary to meet the fire officers' requirements would cause a great loss of income? Is he further aware that they would be unable to bear the capital costs without assistance? Can my right hon. and learned Friend offer any hope to such clubs?

Mr. Brittan

I cannot offer them any assistance today. I have already indicated the context in which that matter is being considered by the working group of my hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

As a supporter of that very famous Scottish club Morton, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman what is going on in Scotland? If I heard him right, he spoke of an urgent review in Scotland. When will it take place and when will its findings be published? Will it include Berwick Rangers? Will he remind his Scottish ministerial colleagues that recommendation 20 of the report refers to membership cards being confined to England and Wales? We do not need them in Scotland.

Mr. Brittan

What I said in the statement was that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland is not to extend designation in Scotland beyond its present limits. He has arranged for all non-designated clubs and all governing bodies in sport in Scotland to conduct an urgent review of ground safety, in co-operation with the local fire authorities.

Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)

May I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels) in asking my right hon. and learned Friend whether he will consider the possibility of introducing a national identity card system, such as prevails in many Continental countries?

Mr. Brittan

I hope that the whole question of identity cards and admission cards will be considered. Mr. Justice Popplewell has made his recommendation. A number of my hon. Friends have suggested an alternative. Of one thing I am quite sure—that either of the alternatives is better than the present position of having no system.