HC Deb 14 March 1985 vol 75 cc439-43 3.42 pm
Mr. Graham Bright (Luton, South)

(by private notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the crowd violence and rioting in Luton yesterday which coincided with the football match between Luton and Millwall.

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

I have already discussed last night's violence with the chief executives of the two clubs concerned. We need to establish all the facts. There is to be an inquiry by the Football Association, and my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has asked the chief constable of Bedfordshire for a report. It would be wrong for me to prejudge those reports. As a separate matter, at the request of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, I am calling for a report from the Football Association within a week on what action it intends to take to deal with those clubs some of whose followers have a history of violence. When that report is available, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister intends to meet the officers of the Football Association.

Mr. Bright

Does my hon. Friend agree that when clubs have a track record of violence, which is the case with Millwall, adequate provision should be made to forestall trouble, preferably by means of ticket only matches, which unfortunately was not the case yesterday? Does my hon. Friend further agree that there should be much more co-operation, in that clubs should give information of the number of supporters who are likely to go to away matches? I understand that in this case there was some under-estimation. Will my hon. Friend do whatever he can to urge magistrates to dish out some jolly good punishments to those who were arrested yesterday, and will he join me in offering condolences to all those policemen who were severely injured?

Mr. Macfarlane

I certainly wish to associate myself and my hon. Friends with the sentiments expressed in the latter part of my hon. Friend's question. Sentencing procedures are a matter for individual courts, and my hon. Friend will not expect me to be drawn on that point.

My hon. Friend's point about the importance of appraisal before each match was graphically illustrated in my letter of 3 February 1983 to all 92 professional league football club chairmen. I said that this would require careful and detailed preparation and planning, especially with the police. This will involve a rigorous on-site assessment by both clubs well in advance of all matches involving sides with a history of violence by a minority of their supporters. I must now establish the facts, together with my right hon. and learned Friend, to find out exactly what went wrong with that pre-match planning because it seems to me to be the most important element in all these types of activities.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

Is my hon. Friend aware that last night I attended the Luton-Millwall match and that consequently I was prevented from returning to the House to vote on a three-line Whip? I witnessed scenes which can only be described as terrifying. Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituents are very angry about the destruction of their homes, their shops, their town and their football club? They demand nothing less than revenge on those who inflicted that damage.

Is my hon. Friend aware that urgent consultations must take place between him and the Home Secretary—I am sorry that the Home Secretary is not in his place this afternoon — on the question of harsher and stiffer penalties? Is he also aware that the only way to deal with these hooligans is to inflict upon them the physical pain which they last night so readily inflicted upon others? Does my hon. Friend appreciate that the time for talking, commissions and inquiries is over and that we must take action?

Mr. Macfarlane

I must point out that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, who is responsible for the police force, is sitting with me on the Front Bench. I am grateful for that. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) has underlined the anxieties which many people in many cities now feel as a result of the activities of a minority of so-called football followers.

As for individual assessment by the courts, my hon. Friend must not expect me, from my Department, to be responsible for the conduct of those sentencing policies. They are very much a matter for the magistrates. But his comments will no doubt be noted outside the House. I well understand my hon. Friend's anxieties. That is why I am not conducting another inquiry. During the past few years there have been many inquiries and conferences. I am conducting an urgent appraisal of what went wrong yesterday evening and am endeavouring to find out what took place.

Mr. Joseph Ashton (Bassetlaw)

Why was it that the National Coal Board did not have to pay for the police on the picket lines, while football clubs have to pay for policing inside football grounds? Is the Minister aware that this problem will not be overcome until there is proper crowd control and proper segregation, for which most clubs cannot afford to pay? The Chancellor of the Exchequer takes 42p in every pound by means of the football pools betting duty, which brings £200 million a year into the Exchequer. When will the Government use some of that money to enforce law and order inside football grounds and protect the spectators?

Mr. Macfarlane

Money from that source is used to enforce law and order inside football grounds and protect spectators. In recent years there has frequently been a subsidy to cover the cost of policing inside football grounds. I hope that the Football Trust, which has presented the better part of £20 million to football over the last 10 years, can play its part. I welcome what it has done so far.

The hon. Gentleman referred to police duties both outside and inside football grounds. I must remind him that the cost of policing is a matter for the football authorities and the individual clubs to decide with the local police force.

Mr. Rob Hayward (Kingswood)

Is my hon. Friend aware that the last city which Millwall supporters broke up was Bristol, particularly causing severe damage to the Bristol, South constituency, represented by the Opposition's Chief Whip, and that the general view now held in Bristol is that it is about time the Government took action? It is no use my hon. Friend saying that the Government are asking for action from the Football Association. The Government have the power, as they proved during the coal strike, to take action against people intent on violence.

Mr. Macfarlane

There is a joint responsibility in which, as I have acknowledged over the years, the Government have a part to play. But the umbrella organisation — the Football Association — and the Football League and the individual clubs also have a major role in all the activities.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

In view of the previous question and Millwall's reputation for having violent supporters, does the Minister agree that there is no excuse for the police being as unprepared as they were yesterday? Does he accept that there is a relationship between the convenience of a sports ground and the behaviour of supporters? Will he do something to allow sports grounds to make their pitches more agreeable places to visit?

Mr. Macfarlane

I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern, and that is something at which we shall be looking closely in the light of the chief constable's report. We must find out what discussions took place between the two clubs and the police force responsible for policing in the Luton area last night.

Sir Hector Monro (Dumfries)

I thank my hon. Friend for his prompt action in calling for reports from the Football Association and the police as a result of this disgraceful affair which some might call sport. Will he give serious consideration to banning the sale of alcohol at English football grounds? The impact of that in Scotland has dramatically reduced crowd misbehaviour, and he should think seriously about bringing in legislation now.

Mr. Macfarlane

I am well aware of the success that has been achieved in Scotland as a result of the inclusion of that ban in legislation. The interdepartmental working group of the four Departments of State which wrote up the report on football spectator violence last year acknowleded that. I can only hope that if legislation is to be introduced at some future stage, in the interim clubs will not fail to remove alcohol from sale inside and outside the stadium.

Mr. Roger Stott (Wigan)

The Minister will probably not be aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) and I were at St. Pancras station at 4.10 pm yesterday, and that even at that early time there were at least 200 or 300 Millwall supporters, most of whom were drunk and many of whom were throwing beer over passengers, behaving in a loutish, hooligan fashion and terrorising most of the people on the platform. It was fairly obvious to those at St. Pancras last night that if that lot got on a train and were deposited at Luton there was bound to be trouble.

If it is possible for the Government to assemble a large police force to stop striking miners from going to persuade their colleagues in Nottingham or others on picket lines, it should have been possible for the police to turn out at Luton last night and prevent some of those hooligans from getting off the train and doing what they did to the constituents of the hon. Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright).

Mr. Macfarlane

That is a matter for close co-operation between the transport police and the county constabulary. That is one of the things I shall want to look at closely. I accept the deep distress that many must have suffered, but that is not an isolated matter. We have to look at many things and that is one of the things that we shall consider in the report on spectator violence. I hope to make an announcement shortly.

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

Does my hon. Friend agree that what happened last might is not the Government's responsibility, nor that of the clubs, but is that of individuals who involve themselves in blatant criminal behaviour? Will he make it clear that society as a whole requires and expects that those who behave in that way will be severely dealt with?

Mr. Macfarlane

Yes, I certainly underline my right hon. and learned Friend's comments. Over the past three or four years we have emphasised and underlined that aspect. That is why in 1982 we passed the Criminal Justice Act, which provides a range of new sentencing powers, and they must be used.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

Why has the Minister's statement today referred to the responsibility of everybody else but not of the Government? As the Minister has been saying throughout the day that last night's problems and last week's problems in Chelsea were in every way predictable, why is he taking initiatives today which he should have taken last week?

Where is the Home Secretary in all this, especially as he has special responsibility for the metropolitan area, which includes Chelsea and Milwall? Why has he been impotent and silent in the past few months, when this problem has been gathering momentum once more? What resources do the Government intend to provide in the form of financial assistance to grounds to make them safe?

As the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister mobilised the entire national police force to deal with the miners' strike, why do they not do the same to deal with these rampaging mobs, which are a national scandal? Will the hon. Gentleman point out to the Football Association that, although we have every sympathy with football and the clubs concerned, we expect severe action over the clubs around which these criminals mobilise their activitives?

During the past year I have twice stated—and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition did so again during Prime Minister's Question Time—that this is a national problem that requires a national solution. On behalf of the Opposition I have offered the Government every support in introducing new legislation to take effective action and have offered to make our experience available to the Government, so why have they not responded in any way?

Mr. Macfarlane

That is an astonishing series of comments from the right hon. Gentleman. Many of these problems took root during his 11 years of office. He well understands some of them, so it ill behoves him to start making criticisms about lack of action. The Government have always tackled this problem seriously, in partnership with the football authorities. It must be tackled in partnership with them. In 1982, before the World Cup, I set up a liaison group with the Football Association and the other interested bodies. I also circulated in 1983 the blueprint of precautions to be taken by the 92 league clubs.

Last year, in consultation with the 23 other Council of Europe Ministers, I created the European agreement. Many of those proposals are working.

However, we must find out what went wrong last night and last week, and why the problem is largely confined to London. I shall leave no stone unturned to ensure that the game retains itself as Britain's foremost sport.