HC Deb 30 April 1986 vol 96 cc1056-62

5AA.—(1) In relation to a room in a designated sports ground—

  1. (a) from which designated sporting events may be directly viewed, and
  2. (b) to which the general public are not admitted,
sections 2(1)(a) and 3(1)(a) of this Act have effect with the substitution for the reference to the period of a designated sporting event of a reference to the restricted period defined below.

(2) Subject to any order under subsection (3) below, the restricted period of a designated sporting event for the purposes of this section is the period beginning 15 minutes before the start of the event or (if earlier) 15 minutes before the time at which it is advertised to start and ending 15 minutes after the end of the event, but—

  1. (a) where an event advertised to start at a particular time on a particular day is postponed to a later day, the restricted period includes the period in the day on which it is advertised to take place beginning 15 minutes before and ending 15 minutes after that time, and
  2. (b) where an event advertised to start at a particular time on a particular day does not take place, the period is the period referred to in paragraph (a) above.

(3) The Secretary of State may by order provide, in relation to all designated sporting events or in relation to such descriptions of event as are specified in the order—

  1. (a) that the restricted period shall be such period, shorter than that mentioned in subsection (2) above, as may be specified in the order, or
  2. (b) that there shall be no restricted period.

(4) An order under this section shall be made by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Government amendment No. 88.

Mr. Shaw

We now come to a significant amendment, which has been pressed upon me by both sides of the House. It relates to the exemption included in the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol etc.) Act, which was passed last summer and applies to all parts of grounds which have bars, with the exception of the sponsored boxes which were built facing the pitch. I am glad to say that in general—I hope that the House will concur—the police believe that the Act, as well as other things that have taken place since last season, is helping them to combat hooliganism.

During the proceedings on the Bill considerable concern was expressed about the effect of the Act on the revenue that clubs derived from the leasing of executive boxes. I therefore undertook to monitor the situation, and the Football League has supplied us with information that shows that clubs are projecting considerable losses. In Committee I said that the Government would be working on an amendment to relax the controls without abandoning them altogether, and the result is before the House this evening.

The amendments establish a new regime for the sale and possession of alcohol in executive boxes and restaurants. The sale and possession of alcohol in such rooms will continue to be prohibited for a period lasting from 15 minutes before a match until 15 minutes after a match. Outside that dry period, box occupants will be able to possess alcohol, and it can be sold to them as long as a normal justice's licence has been obtained.

The amendments also make provision for the dry period to be reduced, or indeed removed altogether, by order. I should make it clear that we have an open mind on whether, and if so when, that power should be exercised, and we certainly do not intend that it should be exercised before the 1987–88 season, at the very earliest.

Under the arrangements, the role of the magistrate will be limited to the usual licensing role. We concluded that it would not be appropriate or sensible to attempt to devise a new form of procedure for boxes similar to the exemption order arrangements under the 1985 Act. Many boxes are paid for by companies, which take clients to matches and provide them with drinks at no charge. We could not easily extend the present exemption order scheme, which applies only to sale, to those cases. It would be equally difficult to graft on to the 1985 Act a new exemption order scheme which applied to possession as well as to sale. Accordingly, the amendments are formulated on a different basis, with a central dry period, but with a substantial reduction in the period of control.

I know that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) was especially concerned about the equity of the whole operation of the 1985 Act, and about the equity to be included in any amendments that we brought forward. I believe that we have incorporated as much equity as is reasonably possible in the circumstances, without undermining the controls generally. Clearly, during the period when clubs are not enabled to serve or to sell alcohol in boxes they will be in the same position as people on the terraces and in the stands, who will not be able to possess alcohol in any place from which the pitch may be viewed direct. They can go to behind the stands areas to buy a drink if an exemption order for sale has been granted by a local magistrate.

We have initially set the dry period to cover the period of the match and 15 minutes on either side and I would judge that that 15 minutes on either side is the time when the vast majority of spectators enter or leave matches and is accordingly the period when the need for equity is at its greatest.

In addition, the relaxation is framed in terms of rooms from which the pitch may be directly viewed and to which the general public are not admitted. The relaxation would therefore apply to any room (for example a supporters' club clubhouse) to which the general public are not admitted. There is nothing to prevent a club from developing such a facility and thereby taking advantage of the relaxation that we have in mind. In many ways we would welcome developments of membership card schemes in this way to provide facilities which are not for general public use but which are for club members only.

These proposals represent a significant degree of relaxation for the clubs, while keeping intact the general thrust of the 1985 Act. Under the present controls, alcohol may neither be sold nor purchased in boxes for a period lasting from two hours before a match until one hour afterwards, a total period of four hours 40 minutes. Under these proposals this "dry period" will be reduced to two hours 10 minutes. Sponsors will be able to entertain clients for a meal with a drink before the match, and if developments in the game are encouraging there is provision for further relaxation in subsequent seasons.

I conclude by saying that in dealing with the issues of football hooliganism and the management of clubs we have provided arrangements for an exclusion order scheme and for an arrest power to go with that. We have provided proposals for containment of the sale of alcohol, yet with a relaxation, significantly, for the provision of alcohol in sponsored boxes.

I wish that clubs would give more commitment to installing membership schemes in order to control those whom they wish to attend their games, and in that way do more to fulfil their side of the bargain, because I believe that if the House accepts these amendments we shall be delivering our side of it.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

I am sorry that the Government felt compelled to make these further concessions to those who want to earn the money for football from booze. It is a pity that our national game is so unimaginative in its approach to fund raising that it has to persuade the House that football will not be able to survive unless drinking in directors' boxes is allowed. That is a shameful admission.

I have had some responsibility for sport. I have had the opportunity to see how other countries handle the financing of it, and most of the great European football clubs arrange their business rather better. They have multisport facilities. They have arrangements whereby they get income from many activities that attract more customers, including families. Regrettably, in Britain we appear to be accepting the view that unless the directors' guests can do more drinking in the boxes, football will collapse. I do not believe that.

It would have been far better to make football face up to its responsibilities, widen its market and use its facilities better. It is a national disgrace that we have come to the situation that, although Parliament has had to take action to prevent drink generating violence, we are now under pressure from the clubs who say that we must change what we did. I do not think that the initial Act—the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol, Etc.) Act—was any good, and I do not think that this Bill is any good. We have arrived at this pass. There is nothing to be done, but somebody should have the guts to stand up and say that football does itself no credit if it finances its future on booze.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I declare my interest in that I am chairman of the all-party football committee, and the House may know that, along with my colleagues, I have argued for this change. It is no secret that on the Second Reading of the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol, Etc.) Act, I said that I felt that both the Government and my Front Bench had overreacted to the terrible tragedies at Brussels, Birmingham and Luton. The proposed amendment is a recognition by both the Government and the Opposition that my colleagues and I had a rather more valid line of argument than they thought.

This is not time for self-congratulation. The feeling is probably best summed up by Luke, chapter 15: joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentence. In this case we have two, in the shapes of the Minister and my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman). I congratulate them because, following the promise that we obtained from the Minister on the Second Reading of the Bill—that he would monitor the effects of the Bill on football clubs—both the Minister and my right hon. Friend took that promise seriously. They both visited football clubs, looked closely at the problems, and monitored the Football League, and the reactions of the all-party football committee. As a result, we have today's amendment.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), because he misunderstood the Act on Second Reading last year, and he still misunderstands it. He spoke about the guests in directors' boxes, but that has always gone on because the boxes do not overlook the pitch. We are not talking about them, although the hon. Gentleman keeps getting this mixed up. I agree with him in part about continental clubs, but they have always had such a facility, for which we have argued, and which is returning through the amendment. His contribution was neither weighty nor relevant.

There is no doubt—it has been recognised by the Government and by Opposition spokesmen—that clubs such as Manchester United, Spurs, Leicester City and many others would have been hit drastically next season were it not for this proposal. There were signs of that this season. My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton asked for equity. Unfortunately, the flow of money from executive box holders, which would enable clubs to do all the things that the Prime Minister and the Minister of State wanted, including improving safety standards, was drying up fast. But at the same time, the person who had his drink out of sight of the pitch could still enjoy that facility. The amendment would make the position more equitable for executive box holders, many of whom may not support the Labour party. But as an egalitarian, I believe that they should be given a fair chance if they are genuine football supporters. 12 midnight

I welcome the proposal, as does the Football League. Indeed, Jack Dunnett told me yesterday that he was grateful for small mercies. He hopes that the Minister will widen the concessions, if not next season, the season after. I hope that the Minister will give a guarantee that he will not stop the monitoring exercise. I hope that the Government will continue to examine the effects of the legislation, even as amended, to ensure that football can prosper and do all the things that we wish our national game to do. We must rid ourselves of the hooligan element that has attached itself to our national game. They are not genuine football supporters. I have not argued against membership cards. There is room for an experiment in that area. The committee which examined the matter argued that, given modern technology, football clubs should try to move towards the Government's position and at least conduct an experiment with the object of introducing a membership card system that would go some way to alleviating many of the problems.

I congratulate the Minister of State and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton on accepting the main thrust of our arguments. They will also wish to thank Paul Bobroff of Tottenham Hotspur, Marting Edwards of Manchester United, Jack Dunnett and many others who participated in the monitoring exercise and turned this proposal into a reality. The Minister would be well advised to continue the monitoring exercise, because it has been a true exercise in democracy. The football clubs must also accept that many hon. Members genuinely feel for the game and wish to assist them to get rid of the problems which neither they nor we want. I welcome this modest move in the direction for which we argued last year.

Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth)

I agree with the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and disagree almost totally with the observations of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths). Although I had not intended to speak in the debate, in welcoming the Government amendment I declare my interest as a long-standing supporter of Norwich City football club. I recognise that my hon. Friend comes from a county whose football team is not so good on the field, although its supporters' standard of behaviour is equal to that in Norwich. I invite him to visit Norwich City football club next season to see the new stand, erected after the old one was burnt down because of an electrical fault. There he will see the membership card scheme applied to about 2,000 occupants of the stand. Norwich City has made the positive initiatives for which my hon. Friend the Minister of State called. I welcome what the Government have said tonight in respect of this. There is still room for further movement in the direction of relaxation.

I reject the notion that football is any more dependent on booze than the Barbican theatre, the Royal Opera House, the ballet or any other place where people drink at very high prices, which all helps the profits of those theatres and enables the pastimes to be enjoyed at perhaps a slightly lower cost. There is nothing wrong with drink. It is like everything else—it needs to be done in moderation. The move that the Government have made to relax the controls will be welcomed, will result in a positive approach and, of course, has nothing to do with the provision of hospitality by directors, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde underlined. It has to do with companies ploughing back into sport their funds from their other activities, entertaining their customers, the people with whom they deal throughout the year, and at the same time helping to bring football grounds generally into the 21st century, which many of our Continental neighbours have already done.

I welcome the amendment. I hope that we shall see an even further relaxation in the season after next, in the light of the experience of the coming season, which I am sure will show football clubs to be responsible in dealing with what I acknowledge to be a complex matter when one talks about equity.

Mr. Hawksley

I welcome the amendment. It is a response to the long debate in Committee in which I put down an amendment which would have allowed local magistrates to decide what restrictions, if any, they wished to put on such boxes. I still cannot understand why the Minister cannot go the whole way in agreeing to that being enforced because, under this proposal, he is agreeing to a certain relaxation while keeping to himself the possibility of further relaxation later. I hope that he will use that power, because when we debated this we argued that no hooliganism that we had ever heard of had started in or been caused by actions in the boxes. I hope that the Minister will respond to local needs. That is why I argued in Committee that it should be the magistrates, who knew the area, who should decide. I hope that when the Minister replies he will agree to listen to representations made by hon. Members representing areas, when they ask him to relax the order, as this amendment allows him to do.

Providing the Minister gives the House an assurance that he is prepared to consider such representations, I am very pleased to support the amendment, which goes a long way to meeting the needs expressed to us by the Football League, which envisaged the loss of a large amount of income. We are right to try to help it on this occasion.

Mr. Tony Lloyd (Stretford)

Many years ago there was a film in which Charlie Drake took the part of the triangle player in an orchestra, every other member of which he also played. The whole film consisted of his being almost ready to strike the note on the triangle and, in the end, failing to do so at the appropriate time. I wondered whether it would fall to my lot to do that, having sat patiently not just in Committee but also through the whole of today's debate; but at last we arrive at my role in this process.

I am now a revisionist on the matter of alcohol at football grounds. The Minister has heard me express the view in the past that I did not agree with controls on the introduction of alcohol, because I did not think that they would prove effective. Having taken soundings among those who run football grounds and the police, who have had 12 months' experience of controlling alcohol, I must confess that I have been converted to the view that control has a beneficial effect. There is no doubt that what the police are telling us, not just in my area but up and down the country, is that the crowds have been easier to control. There was a sense of revulsion following the disgraceful and tragic events of 12 months ago. Control over the sale of alcohol at football grounds means that spectators have been more amenable and that the police have been able to persuade them to behave in a manner that is in the interests of all those who are present at football matches.

The experiment has helped to reduce hooliganism at football grounds. The clubs have put forward very powerful, although self-interested, arguments about the way in which the controls bite. It is a tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and the all-party football committee that pressure has been brought to bear upon the Minister and his colleagues to consider a relaxation of the rules.

During the debate in Committee it was accepted by most of those concerned that the Minister faced a most difficult job in trying to recognise the real needs of football clubs which, despite the comments of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), have suffered financial penalties. I sympathise with his argument that football clubs should not have to depend upon alcohol as a source of club funds. Nevertheless, it is a legitimate part of the social scene in this country.

Sir Eldon Griffiths

Why not allow them to sell cocaine?

Mr. Lloyd

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman seriously advocates the provision of cocaine by football clubs.

Inability to sell alcohol in the executive boxes has cost the clubs dearly, not because of the loss of sales but because of the potential loss of users of those boxes. The Minister has gone some way towards meeting the needs of the clubs and has also recognised the need for equity within football grounds. In Committee the Opposition said that it is necessary to recognise that football, as a game, is operated in the interests not just of those who sit in the executive boxes but of all those who go to football matches.

The amendments go a considerable way towards alleviating the difficulties faced by clubs. However, football clubs and their supporters are still on probation. It is possible that there will be further relaxations if their good record continues during the next and following seasons. Therefore the Opposition give a guarded welcome to the amendments. They try to strike a balance between the conflicting needs of football supporters, whether they sit inside or outside the executive boxes, the more general needs of the public in and around football grounds, and the needs of the football clubs.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 88, in page 23, line 33 at end insert— '4A. In sections 2 and 3, after subsection (1) insert— (1A) Subsection (1)(a) above has effect subject to section 5AA(1) of this Act.".'.—[Mr. Giles Shaw.]

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