§ Mr. Allen McKay (Barnsley, West and Penistone)
There is no issue between us in the House that, wherever and whenever hooliganism occurs, it must be dealt with. There is no doubt also that the reports show that the problem is growing in this country and elsewhere.
Hooliganism is not confined to any social group or to a particular area. Hooliganism is not only a problem for football, it is a problem for society. Reports in many newspapers clearly show the extent of the problem. There are headlines and reports such as:Seventy arrested as drunks clash with police in rural areas. Fifteen youths were questioned on Saturday … at Shrewsbury. More than 40 people were arrested in York after attacks on police as youths spilled out of public houses …The first outbreak of trouble came at a country and western evening attended by 600 middle-aged enthusiasts …More than 1,000 police officers have been rendered unfit for service this year as a result of assaults in English and Welsh rural areas.In Swindon, Bracknell, Woking, Bedhampton, Caterham, Bournemouth, Llanelli, Oxford and throughout the length and breadth of the country there are problems with vandalism and hooliganism.
This problem does not simply occur in sport and at football matches. In 1980 there was one death and 1,700 arrests at horse-racing fixtures, including 600 during royal Ascot. In rowing 290 people were arrested during the Oxford and Cambridge boat race and 140 during the Henley regatta week. Two years ago there was violence at the Tory party conference and the chairman apologised to CND for the damage to its exhibition stand. Some young Tories were even banned from staying at a hotel because of an outbreak of bad behaviour.
In 1987 there were 141,000 arrests for violence against the person and there were 559,000 arrests for criminal damage. Between 1986 and 1987 arrests for violence against the person in counties that do not have a first or second division football club increased, in Surrey by 25 per cent., in Norfolk by 29 per cent., and in Dorset by 27 per cent. In counties with first or second division football clubs there was an increase, in Merseyside over that period of 4 per cent., in London of 11 per cent. and in the west midlands of 1 per cent.
Of the 3,700,000 reported crime in England and Wales in 1987, only 6,000 were in or around football grounds and they included payment dodgers, pickpockets, illegal parkers, illegal traders and drug arrests. Ostensibly it would appear that it is safer inside a football ground than outside one.
In 1980, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988 the Opposition offered the Government parliamentary time to legislate on football violence. The Government failed to respond. Instead they passed legislation giving the police powers to stop and search people and vehicles travelling to football matches and they banned all alcohol at matches.
The Government now propose introducing an identity card scheme, against the advice of senior police officers, the Police Federation, football legislators, supporters' clubs, civil libertarians and civil liberty groups. The Government must believe that the scheme will be seen as a form of decisive action—whether or not it works. I do not blame the Government for that, because given the uproar that followed the Turin, Heysel, and Leyton 185 incidents, they had to be seen doing something. However, they must reconsider whether the scheme they propose is the most effective.
The Government expect that, in time, the withdrawal of identity cards from the culprits will eliminate the problem, leaving football crowds free from violence, and parents and children free to enjoy the game in safety. It is an admirable aim, with which we all agree, but can it be achieved by the proposed scheme?
As a magistrate, I look to the scheme to provide something more than the power to fine offenders. Will it work, or will it mean taking unwarranted action against millions of football supporters, remembering that 99 per cent. of them do not indulge in violence?
This week's issue of the Police Federation magazine advises.Think again, Mr. Moynihan. The Report of Sports Minister's Colin Moynihan's Working Party on a National Membership Scheme for Football has come in for almost universal condemnation. Sadly, the strictures are deserved, for this is an extraordinary mish mash of good intentions and half baked nostrums. If the Government insists on using its majority to steamroller this scheme through Parliament, the results could be disastrous.The report continues by remarking that the scheme will not work:When it breaks down, it will do so on match days and give rise to the threat of even worse disorder than it seeks to suppress.Also highlighted is the likely reaction of a crowd of 50,000-plus supporters, such as that seen at Highbury earlier this month, whichif unable to gain admission because of delays at the turnstiles, does not have to guessed at … The conclusion is inescapable that it is the Department of the Environment, responding to prompting from the Prime Minister's Policy Unit, which was on the working party, which has pushed this through against the best professional advice.That is the view of the Police Federation, whose officers will have to deal with the scheme's implementation.
As far as we can see, the identity system will comprise a central, computerised network of 92 linked terminals. An application for membership will be made on a form obtained at a post office, local shop or the club itself, and it must be submitted to the club of the applicant's choice together with two passport-style photographs. The application will be checked and entered on the central computer.
How will it be known at that stage that the information given on the form is correct? No one will know because at that point there will be no checking system. Subsequently, the applicant's identity card will be posted to him. Only at that stage is there a check—that the address given is valid. It will depend on the cost to the individual of that system as to how many supporters will be lost to the game.
What about the casual supporter who decides, "It's a fine day—I'll go to the match"? The Minister is reported as telling a group of Conservative Members that that problem will be overcome by allowing applicants to register as casual supporters on the morning of the match they wish to attend. If that is so, how will their applications be checked—given that, otherwise, a period of seven days is required for that process?
I do not believe that people will go down and register in the morning. They will simply not go to the match. It is fine for those who can get into the car and spend half an hour going to fetch an application form, but few people in 186 my constituency have cars, and problems with bus services mean they will not go into town twice—once to get the form and once to attend the match.
Under the scheme children must be accompanied by their parents. But hundreds of young football fans do not go to matches with their parents: they go together in groups—not necessarily school groups; they get together locally. At what age must they have an identity card? Will aged persons be exempt, and if so at what age?
What will happen on the day of the match? The spectator goes along to the ground; he puts his card into the machine; he is identified by the central computer; the turnstile is unlocked; the identity card is given to the gate man; the spectator is identified by his photograph, and he pays his money. All that takes a long time. Anyone who goes to football matches regularly has seen the thousands of people who go through the turnstiles in the last 15 or 20 minutes—sometimes the last 10 minutes—before a major match. It is unbelievable. I do not think that a computerised system will be able to take that in its stride and be able to register and check all those people and let them through.
What if the card is rejected? What about the argument that that will cause? What if someone is not identified with the card that he presents, or the computer goes on the blink? All the problems that we are trying to remove from the football ground will be transferred back to the local community. Many supporters will not put up with the hassle, and there will be a further loss of custom as a result.
A national opinion poll surveyed 947 people who went to football matches or said that they were interested in football. Asked how often they went to a league game nowadays nearly half the sample said never, 90 per cent. said once a month, 10 per cent. said every two or three months, 12 per cent. said only twice a season and 11 per cent. said that they went even less often than that. Of the 48 per cent. who never attended a league game nowadays over three quarters—79 per cent.—said that they had attended games in the past, while 20 per cent. of those interested in football had never attended a league game at all. Over half the respondents—56 per cent.—thought that a compulsory membership scheme would be a good idea, while 37 per cent. thought that it would be a bad idea. But of those who were closer to the game—those who actually went to football matches—54 per cent. thought that a compulsory scheme would be a bad idea. When they were asked whether they would apply for a membership card, 40 per cent. said no. That means that there will be a falling-off in attendance.
Even if the system works, delays at turnstiles will lead to public order problems outside the ground. Standard practice is to open the gates in the last 15 minutes of any match. What will happen if disgruntled spectators are still outside? Those inside will be trying to get out while those outside are trying to get in. Both activities conflict with the law and with the conditions laid down on the safety certificates.
At some grounds turnstiles lead directly on to a busy road, with no possibility of resiting them. Moreover, it is always difficult to recruit suitable staff, and it will be more difficult if the system is brought in. Small clubs like mine in Barnsley, playing good, attractive football, are trying to increase attendance. They will run into financial difficulties in funding the scheme.
I understand, according to a story in one of tomorrow's newspapers, that a firm has offered to fund the scheme, 187 free of charge. However, there will be a cost and it will have to be looked into. Any loss of revenue because of loss of custom and a decrease in membership will lead to great concern and difficulties. Some of the directors to whom I have spoken recently have said that the difficulties will be so great that clubs such as Barnsley will go out of business.
As they have experienced very little trouble for many years, we have to ask why they should have to introduce a membership scheme to prevent trouble that is not being caused. No two clubs are alike, so different measures have to be adopted for each club. The clubs, in co-operation with the Government, have installed closed-circuit TV; they have segregated the rival supporters; they have introduced family areas and voluntary membership schemes; they have adopted local plans that have been agreed with the police and the local authorities. Those measures have virtually eliminated all crowd disorder incidents. Those ideas can be built on, without the need to introduce an identity scheme. Cards do not catch, and never have caught, anyone.
As for Sheffield Wednesday's system—our nearest neighbour—all trains are met at the station and the football fans are escorted to the football ground. After the match they are escorted back to the trains. All coaches come off the motorway at junction 36, are put into convoys and escorted to the match. All alcohol is confiscated at those points. Sheffield Wednesday has had no trouble whatsoever for ages.
As a magistrate, I know that something is needed to deter football hooliganism. Fines do not deter. Why should we not use the magistrates' courts effectively? Why should they not be able to issue community orders each Saturday, or on each day that a match is played, for every offender? Millwall's idea is that, for every offender, the community order should state that work should be done at Millwall's football ground.
Why should we not expand the use of the probation service? The Government's booklet "Punishment, Custody and the Community" states that community service should be used and that the use of of the probation service should be extended, Why should not offenders be asked to report to the local police station on each day that a match is played? Why should investigations not be made at half time during matches to make sure that offenders are not at the match? Hooligans inside football grounds can be assumed to be hooligans outside football grounds. The use of the courts in that way would act as a deterrent.
The Police Federation said:Mrs. Thatcher's insistence that football hooliganism must be conquered reflects the feelings of the whole law-abiding public. All the more reason why such an objective needs something far, far more feasible than this lamentable miscarriage of judgement.That is why many people believe that the identity card scheme will not work.
§ Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)
As my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport is shortly to unveil the Bill that will require football supporters to carry membership cards to gain admission to football matches, it is certain that in the coming weeks there will be a substantial volume of comment about the merits of the proposed legislation. Understandably, much of that comment will be on the 188 sports pages, and it will come from those who are directly involved with football, such as the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay), who initiated this debate.
I want, however, to deal with this as someone who is not directly involved with football but who is concerned about public order and about the cost to the whole community of the need to have substantial numbers of police officers at football matches and who is concerned that Britain's name overseas should not be besmirched by being associated in people's minds with violence and hooliganism by Britons at football matches. This is a matter that concerns us all, not just those who are directly involved with football.
Who in Britain, in June 1985, could not have been ashamed and appalled by the scenes of violence at the European cup final in Brussels that resulted in 38 deaths and a much larger number of injuries? Who in Britain could not have felt a sense of outrage and shame that the behaviour of some of our citizens led to such a tragedy? Who could not have resolved that we should all do everything possible to make sure that such a disaster never happened again?
Undoubtedly matters have improved during the past three seasons, with restrictions on alcohol at football matches and full use being made of closed-circuit television, crowd segregation and firm and positive policing. A continuous and sensible package of measures has been taken of which the proposed legislation forms part. I suspect that the only reason why it has not been in place earlier is that the football clubs have not been prepared to produce their own voluntary scheme. But it is necessary to introduce legislation to further that package of measures, to make sure that all grounds are licensed, that responsibilities go with such licences and to introduce a national membership scheme. All those initiatives form part of an interlocking and inter-relating set of measures to tackle football hooliganism.
There is still a long way to go before football's good name is restored. Last season there were 6,147 arrests and 6,542 ejections from football league matches. There were also the recent appalling events at the European championships in Germany earlier this year. Those statistics translate into substantial amounts of police time, magistrates courts' time, Crown court time and therefore substantial sums of taxpayers' and ratepayers' money.
Let us not forget that it requires a sizeable police effort to police the matches and contain the risk of hooliganism. For example, Thames Valley police provides some 80 to 100 police at most football league matches in its area, and considerably more at some matches. The cost of such policing is about £7,500 per match for a four-hour period. On average, the clubs pay some £2,000 towards the cost, so that ratepayers and taxpayers foot the rest of the bill. Of course, police officers on duty at football matches are not available for duty elsewhere. If Oxford were playing at home, there could, and almost certainly would, be about 100 police officers in attendance at the match. In contrast, at the same time almost certainly fewer than 20 police officers would be available to police the whole of the Banbury area in north Oxfordshire. Oxford United football club has a good reputation and has taken every measure possible to reduce public disorder within its grounds. How much worse the situation would be at clubs which have a consistently bad reputation for public disorder. 189 Those manpower figures and costings clearly demonstrate that football hooliganism affects us all, not just those who attend football matches or live and work near football grounds, but the whole community. I welcome the promised Bill that will provide the framework for a national membership scheme designed to break the link between football and hooliganism. The prime purpose of the scheme is to keep troublemakers out of football grounds. Removing the football match as the focus for the activities of the hooligans will also act as a disincentive for them to travel and will help to break the link between violence and football.
It is said the scheme will simply move violence from inside to outside the grounds, but I disagree. My experience as a barrister tells me that those who are involved in football violence need the anonymity of the crowd and the presence of the crowd to behave as they do. They will act in groups in a crowd in ways in which they would not act as individuals in the street. Unable to get into football matches, the thugs will have no crowd in which to act.
The responsible football spectator has nothing to lose and everything to gain by the introduction of a national membership scheme. Concerns that have been raised are misplaced. I have no doubt that when the hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone sees the full details of the scheme, he will find that many of his fears have been misplaced. The scheme will not interfere with civil liberties. No one has an absolute right to enter a football ground and clubs already refuse entry to unwanted spectators. However, hooliganism does infringe the civil liberties of the general public—those who live near football grounds and those who live away from the grounds but find that the number of police officers in their area has been cut because they are needed to police matches.
Improved technology means that those with membership cards will be able to enter football grounds speedily. Far from being a cost to clubs, I suspect that they will soon find that the membership scheme provides a positive cash flow. As a publisher with some experience of the commercial potential of membership lists, I know that there are enormous commercial opportunities in a membership list of millions. One company has already agreed to set up and run the scheme at no cost to clubs. I am sure that any competent club will be able to turn the scheme into a revenue-generating opportunity.
Radical change was needed if football was to survive as a spectator sport and if English clubs were once more to be acceptable abroad. My hon. Friend the Minister is introducing a sensible scheme as part of a series of measures in the interests of genuine football supporters and the community as a whole. I hope that the scheme will have widespread support in the country.
§ Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)
The hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) began by saying that he is not a football supporter. That was illustrated in his speech. I am sure that he knows a good deal about being a barrister and publisher but he knows nothing about football or the proposed Bill. Much of what he said related to Heysel and West Germany and the proposed Bill does not attempt to tackle those problems. The hon. Gentleman 190 received a brief from someone who is no friend of his. Even the Minister woke up when he heard some of the nonsense that was spoken.
The opposition to the proposed measure is gaining strength, not least among Conservative Members. This is an opportunity for us to discuss the measure and I am sure that we will not discuss it again. When the Bill goes to the other place it will be buried, and rightly so.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) on raising the matter. He has done the House a service. Even at this late hour it is a pleasure to expose some of the myths about hooliganism that are attached to football. We are not talking about "football hooligans" but, as I have said, hooligans attached to football. My hon. Friend mentioned the survey in The Mail on Sunday. I will not go into further detail because he dealt with that adequately. He also mentioned the Police Federation's response to the proposed measure. The police will be at the sharp end of the legislation. The federation says that the scheme will not work. Anybody who looks at it in depth will realise that.
The football league's executive staff association, which has 440 members, is almost unanimous in its opposition to the proposal. It says that the proposed identity card scheme would not serve any useful purpose in preventing the spectator violence which is attached to football. Those experienced professionals feel that the scheme will lead to unaccompanied youngsters becoming the targets of violence, which isa truly frightening prospect.
As chairman of the all-party football committees I have received many letters from clubs such as Ipswich Town, Chelsea, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday, Stoke City, Sunderland, Exeter City and Wrexham. Conservative Members representing marginal seats should closely consider the proposed legislation, because a number of clubs will go the wall as a result of it, and as a result of that a number of Conservative Members will also go to the wall.
I shall refer particularly to Reading football club because the Minister for Sport, donning a Reading FC tie—I expect that he will use it on some future occasion—opened its membership scheme. Reading says that as a result of the proposed legislationthe Government has set us back five years.It has paid about £100,000 to introduce the voluntary membership scheme that the Minister opened. That is not an isolated case, and many clubs throughout the country will find it difficult to exist as a result of the proposed legislation.
I know that the Minister is under much pressure, from the kind of letters that I and other hon. Members have been receiving. Conservative Back Benchers are pressing for concessions, and my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone said that some have been made, but they are insufficient and the wrong approach is being taken.
The Minister's justification for action—violent hooliganism associated with football—does not bear close scrutiny. An answer that I received from the Home Office dated 7 November said that 3.9 per cent. of adults in Britain were arrested last year throughout the country compared with 0.03 per cent. at football matches.
The hon. Member for Banbury contradicted himself. It is true that the hooligan wants to be associated with the crowd, but the hon. Gentleman rightly said that because of 191 closed-circuit television and segregation the hooligan has been thrown out of football grounds and back into society. Arrests at football grounds increased last season by 11 per cent., but that increase has been attributed to police use of closed-circuit television to catch offenders who previously went free.
The debate concerns public order, and last year violent assaults increased by 13 per cent.—rather more than the increase in football-related arrests. Given that most football arrests are not for violent crime, we argue that the problem is one for the wider community. At the recent Liverpool-Everton match, there were no arrests inside the ground and three outside it, two of which were for theft from cars while one was for ticket touting. Eight of the arrests at White Hart Lane before the Spurs-Millwall match were because of a clamp-down on ticket touts. When there have been problems, such as at Stockport county versus Burnley this season, football has acted swiftly, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) will testify. Burnley uses closed-circuit television camera evidence to ban offenders for life.
The problem of violence in society is the true problem, which identity cards cannot solve. Luton Town has been successful, by its own terms, in banning away supporters from Kenilworth road, but figures for violent offences in the Luton area prove that the problem has not been destroyed but displaced. In Britain, violent offences increased by 12 per cent. in 1987 compared with the previous year. In Bedfordshire police division C, which covers Luton, the increase was 14 per cent. The contrast is stronger when one compares Luton with the rest of Bedfordshire, where the increase was less than the national average. Violence has become not better but worse since identity cards were introduced at Kenilworth road.
When the police are given effective resources and support, they can tackle hooliganism. It was reassuring to see the ringleaders at Wolverhampton convicted last week and sent to goal. That was positive action by the police and the club. The police who are involved in the dangerous undercover work that leads to such convictions know full well that identity cards are irrelevant. This week, a sergeant who had to retain some secrecy on the point about gangs at Arsenal revealed thatThe football match was never the focus of the aggression. Once the match was over, opposition fans would be trailed or supporters in the match elsewhere in London would be ambushed at Euston. They were sophisticated criminals who were careful to avoid incidents inside the grounds because they knew they would be detected at Highbury. Identity cards would do nothing to defeat the problems of society and the cards would be an additional target for theft.
The Minister for Sport wants to make cosy comparisons between football and other sports, because he believes that families need only to return to football to solve many problems. Football has never been a family sport. It has always been a male-dominated sport. The Government refer to the American game of football as though it were some panacea. Before this season's Cincinnati v. Cleveland game, the senior police officer on duty said that it would be a normal match. He expected more than 100 arrests, lots of fights and disorderly behaviour because of intoxication. Not a single match here this season has caused anything like those problems. The 192 Minister should look less towards the foreign situation and more towards the actions of his own Government with regard to the impact of identification cards on attendances.
A comparison with the arts is realistic, given the introduction of charges for entry to museums. As with football, they create an additional barrier between the public and, in this case, the exhibition of historic treasures. Admissions to the national maritime museum fell by 36 per cent. in the first year following the introduction of charges. At the natural history museum, they fell by 40 per cent., and the science museum has just budgeted for a similar 40 per cent. loss. A 40 per cent. drop would be the death knell for most football clubs.
The Minister for Sport did not discuss the problem with football supporters' clubs when the working party was set up. Rather belatedly, the other day, he lectured them; he did not listen to them. Had he listened to real football supporters, he would have come to quite a different conclusion.
I shall conclude my remarks by quoting a gentleman who, I am sure, is no supporter of the Labour party. He is from Guildford in Surrey. He wrote:My objections are on grounds of gross infringement of my freedom of choice, what to do with my leisure time on a Saturday afternoon. I happen to be chairman of the local British Legion branch here in Surrey. I was at the Festival of Remembrance at the Albert hall. And as the poppy petals fluttered down I asked myself how many of the 300,000 men who died or were wounded (in Flanders alone; enough men to fill Wembley stadium three times over) would have dreamed that they were fighting and dying for a country which, by the year 1988, would be making such a demand of its 'free' citizensHe went on to say:aided and abetted by a Prime Minister in her third term whose Falkland virtues of steadfastness and determination are now being turned against innocent citizens in her own country.
As hon. Members can imagine, that person is hardly a supporter of the Labour party. He and many others like him are turning against the Government's proposed legislation, because it will do nothing to assist our national game. It will drive many clubs out of business. At the end of the day, the Minister for Sport will be known as the Minister who killed our national game. The Government will be linked with him in that act.
§ 4.9 am
§ Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley)
The speech of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) clearly showed why the Government will be getting it wrong if they proceed along the lines suggested in the Queen's Speech and bring in a Bill to introduce identity cards for football matches. He said that he was no supporter of football. He also failed to recognise the important point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that this is not a football problem. We must get out of the habit of referring to it as such. The media have given that impression and regrettably the Prime Minister and others in the House have allowed it to be referred to as a football problem.
There is hooliganism and violence on the Costa Brava, on ferries, planes, trains and the Underground, in town centres and shopping precincts and in many other places. If we keep the matter in perspective—as we should for football matches—we find that it is a small percentage of the population who commit acts of violence and hooliganism. Opposition Members would not for one 193 moment condone acts of hooliganism, violence or vandalism. We should like such acts, wherever they are committed, to be banned and kept out the way. We would merely say that this is not a football problem.
I have been a Burnley supporter ever since the club won promotion to the first division in the first season after the war and ever since it got to Wembley. I want to give as examples two games which, for different reasons, could not have attracted such large crowds had an identity card scheme been in operation. The first game was at the end of the 1986–87 season. Burnley had to win the last game of the season to remain a member of the football league, of which it was one of the original 12 members when it was formed 100 years ago. Burnley had had a disastrous season in the fourth division with gates nose-diving because of bad results. It also had to depend on one or two other clubs losing that day if it was to survive. Burnley's gates had dropped to below 3,000 that season, yet on that day 18,000 people turned up at Turf Moor to will the team to win the game. That is what football is about, and the crowd played just as important a part as the team in Burnley's victory that day and in the club's survival.
On 29 May this year—the very last game of the football season—instead of fighting for survival, Burnley played Wolverhampton Wanderers in the final of the Sherpa Van competition at Wembley. There was a gate of 81,000 people, who came to see two fourth division clubs—of former first-division glory—fighting for the trophy. Wolves won it, 81,000 people turned up but there was not a single incident or problem. Such an attendance would not have been possible under the new regulations. We need to ensure that people can go to football matches because I believe that the casual supporter may become a regular supporter when a team is doing well. This coming weekend, many people will have their parents staying with them. If the scheme were in place, people would not be able to take their father to a football match on Boxing day—something that is part of Christmas for many people. Do we really want to prevent them from doing that?
The scheme will also create problems at the gate. Most football crowds arrive in the 10 or 15 minutes before a game. It is no good saying that the cards will take a fraction of a second to process or wipe through; those who have used credit cards and phone cards know that they do not always function. However good the computer system is, there will be failures and with thousands of people using the cards just before 3 o'clock on a Saturday, there will be chaos if the computer cannot cope. Initially, nobody with a membership card will be banned because they will not get a card if they are banned. Burnley football club has made it clear that if anyone commits violence at any of its games, whether at home or away, it will ban them for life from all Burnley games.
The legislation will cause problems. On television the Minister said that if there was a problem, the person will go through the turnstile and be stopped by stewards and police. That is based on the assumption that only the odd one will cause a problem. What will happen if at every turnstile a person is rejected and has to be challenged by stewards and the police? That will cause friction outside and will not stop problems in the grounds.
Such people are not football fans. The people who cause the problems do not watch the football match because they are not interested in it. Of course we do not want them there, but they will find a way of getting a card and they will get in. We shall have to have a skillful system 194 that can check photographs Ito see whether a person has somebody else's card. The grounds will not be able to cope with a large crowd going through the turnstiles in the few minutes before the game starts.
The scheme will cause problems to many third and fourth division clubs, and even first and second division clubs will be affected. This year Burnley's gates are averaging just over 8,000. Luton, which is cited as an example of how such schemes work, has had a successful season. It reached Wembley three times, won the Littlewoods cup and its average gate was only just over 8,000. That is not enough to sustain a football club.
The legislation will sound the death knell of many clubs. I strongly believe that we want to preserve a league of 92 clubs which can move up and down the league and in which supporters can take an interest. It is regrettable that the scheme will be forced through by hon. Members who do not support football and who are encouraged by the Prime Minister, who is not a fan, but unfortunately happens to be the president of Blackburn Rovers, who are Burnley's greatest rivals. I hope that Blackburn puts pressure on the Prime Minister to think again and that the Minister will make it clear that the Government will rethink this nonsensical proposal.
§ Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield)
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) for expressing anxieties about football in this debate, having been successful in the ballot. I, too, wish to speak against a compulsory identity card system for football supporters. I oppose it for many reasons, which I shall go into, but mainly because the introduction of such a mandatory scheme has nothing to do with sport. It is a direct interference in sport. The Government seek to impose a scheme which is an insult to the majority of football supporters, to 91 of the 92 league clubs and to the majority of those involved in football at all levels.
Hon. Members on both sides may ask why I believe that so firmly. It stems from my arm belief that the idea is totalitarian as it does not seek to solve any of the problems of violence in our society or accept that the Government's economic policies have widened divisions within society, which have an effect on football. Social divisions are so sharp that they affect detrimentally inner-city communities, the young and the old, the employed and the unemployed and those in the north and the south. These measures are little more than a bullish public relations exercise by a Government with virtually no personal knowledge or experience of the game. The main purpose is to divert public opinion away from some of the major problems facing people in our society, primarily caused by Government policies.
It is true that British football has a hooliganism problem, but it is not a new problem. For instance, the Leicester Daily Mercury reported disgraceful scenes at a Burnley v Blackburn Rovers match. It stated:the referee was mobbed at the close, the official had to be protected by the Committee and so demonstrative were the spectators that the police could not clear the field. He had to take refuge under the grandstand and subsequently in a neighbouring house. The police force was increased and eventually the referee was hurried into a cab and driven away by a howing stone-throwing mob.That happened in 1890. Examples of hooliganism can be found throughout the 20th century.
According to another report: 195In 1909, at Hampden Park some 6,000 spectators pulled up goalposts, fences and pay-boxes, set fire to them and danced round them in the middle of the pitch. Police, firemen and ambulancemen were stoned, fire-engines damaged and horses slashed. Police, after throwing the stones back at the rioters, finally cleared the ground at 7 o'clock at a cost of 54 constables injured and the destruction of virtually every street around Hampden. Sixty other people were also injured.Another report states:Neither of the New Year's Day matches at Parkhead in 1898 or Ibrox in 1905, between Rangers and Celtic, were finished because of pitch invasions, There were also serious outbreaks of disorder in Scottish fotball in 1941, 1949, 1953, 1955, 1957 and 1958 and on into the 1960s. The disorder in these cases consisted of fighting, bottle-throwing and pitch invasions in addition to ritual chanting, obscenities and jeering. In fact The Glasgow Herald wrote in 1952: 'This hooliganism on the sports field cannot be allowed to go on. The sport of football must be cleared up'.
It is, therefore, not a new problem and it does no good to the sport for the Government—especially the Minister responsible for sport—to keep harping on publicly about it. In the same way as I condemn the television companies and the rest of the media for some of the ways that they have reported such events, especially in the recent past, the Government cannot be excused for their approach to the problem, which has done little more than highlight the active hooligans in their behaviour.
The 1986 Popplewell inquiry into crowd safety and control of sports grounds said it all when it said:There are three popular fallacies about hooliganism. Firstly, that it is something comparatively new, secondly, that it is only found at soccer matches and thirdly, that it is an English disease.Anyone viewing some of the Italian crowd at the Heysel stadium disaster, subsequent behaviour at Windsor park races or, indeed, for that matter Henley boating regatta last year, will understand what I mean.
We must also accept that violence at football matches is not at the behest of the majority of decent loyal supporters. Everyone inside and outside of the game must take a share of the blame—the Government, perhaps, for their economic policies or the present, and past Governments for their willingness to bask in the glory of individual success in sport, or to scream at its demise after tragic or wrongful events. The blame must be shared inside the game. Professor John Hargreaves aptly described the situation in his book "Sport Culture", when he said:Professional fouls, rows between players and officials, violence around football, power struggles and financial scandals in the board rooms, revelations about breaches of amateur status, the growing problem of drugs used in sports, the spatial representations of class divisions in seating arrangements at football grounds, executive boxes and seating accommodation in the stands versus the uncovered caged terrorists at the ends.
All those factors and others add to the problems of violence in sport, especially in football. The only two significant trends in football spectating in recent years have been declining audiences and the worsening ground behaviour.
Another reason for the problems might be the current state of British soccer, which might be as much to blame for the nonsense that occurs. Perhaps the Minister with responsibility for sport should pay a little attention to how our international squads do in various competitions. If he did we might not have some of the outrageous scenes that we have witnessed on the continent.
196 There can be no doubt that a problem exists, but everyone who cares about soccer wants to solve it. I have yet to speak to anyone connected with the sport, however, apart from those involved with Luton Town football club and the chief constable of Greater Manchester, who favour the Government's current solution. John Stalker, the former deputy chief constable of Greater Manchester who now advises Millwall on security matters has said: "the harder and heavier the policing, the more they want to pit themselves against it. Identity cards are no solution. In fact in big cities and other places where groups of fans could come across each other outside the ground, it is a positively dangerous idea."
§ Mr. Pendry
I have followed what my hon. Friend has said carefully and he has been talking a great deal of sense. Does my hon. Friend consider that it is somewhat odd that he is making his speech but that the Minister responsible for sport is not present to listen to it? The Minister is responsible for the proposed legislation, but had he listened to my hon. Friend and others he might not have introduced it in the first place.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)
Order. I should remind the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) that debates of this nature should not relate to legislation.
§ Mr. Meale
I note your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Every football league club chairman to whom I have spoken opposes the idea of identity cards. They all consider it to be absolute stupidity. Every player dreads it as it could result in the shortening of their already limited playing careers because of club closures or restrictions on club finances to pay wages. Every police chief to whom I have spoken—apart from the chief constable of Greater Manchester—who is concerned with providing police cover for matches believe that the proposal is totally unworkable. Every football supporter I have met has decribed the measure as a hooligans' charter and the fulfilment of the hooligan purpose of causing havoc on Saturday afternoons.
I urge the Minister with responsibility for sport to start again in his search for a solution. If the Minister will do nothing else, he should come to my club, Mansfield Town. It is a third division club and it it not one of the biggest in Britain, nor does it have the great history of Burnley FC in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Minister of Burnley (Mr. Pike) who spoke eloquently about the history of football.
In recent times, Mansfield Town has striven to beat hooliganism in a positive way. It has done so by introducing a voluntary membership scheme; by working with youngsters in the community; by promoting a sound youth policy in the club. It has also provided a family stand and enclosure that has been sponsored by the local newspaper The Chad and it offers cut-price tickets to families. It has created and promoted excellent liaison between the police authority, the club and its supporters. It has bothered to get the help of the Football Trust and the Football Ground Improvements Trust to better facilities and install closed circuit television in the Fieldmill ground.
It is no good the Minister saying that clubs such as Mansfield will not have to face any financial loss. I have to 197 admit that if he gave such a guarantee tonight I should be more than happy to accept it. Such a promise would help. Clubs like Mansfield Town cannot afford to lose supporters because of the inconvenience that such a measure would cause. A company has been reported today as being willing to step in with £34 million—perhaps the Minister will say something about that tonight. I understand that the company in question is the credit card firm American Express. I hope that the Minister will tell his hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport that that will not do for Mansfield. It is just no good. We want adequate support from the community, with supporters paying for their club to continue.
The proposal is incredibly unfair. As an example of that I quote a press release sent to hon. Members from the Department of the Environment by the Minister responsible for sport on 9 November 1988. The Minister hits the nail on the head. He said of the investigation:Its objectives were to review the main principles of the scheme and to identify appropriate technology to implement it.So the idea was not to discover whether the scheme was a good proposal—it was merely to implement it.
Paragraph 4 of the same letter reads:The link between hooliganism and football is still there … The central premise of the scheme is that no-one will be able to go to a match without a valid membership card.That is untrue; since the scheme was introduced, the Minister has made it plain that there will be exemptions for VIPs visiting football clubs around the country. But what is good enough for VIPs should, in my opinion, be good enough for the ordinary football supporter who goes to football matches every week—rain, snow or hail.
I request the Minister once again to ask the Minister responsible for sport to return to all who are involved in football and other sports—the police, the players the local authorities and the football supporters—and to stop this stupid Bill, so that we can find a more workable and proper solution to the problem. If he will not do that, I ask him at least to guarantee that second, third and fourth division clubs will face no financial loss over the coming years as a result of the scheme. Only in that way will the 91 league clubs who are against the legislation have a future.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East)
Listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) who said that he had been watching league football since the war, I reflected that I, too, had been watching if for 42 years. I tried to remember how many incidents of violence —as opposed to witnessing arrests from a distance—I had seen in that time. I can think of only three. One involved some Burnley supporters at Chesterfield, who were swinging on the barrier dressed as Red Indians. I doubt whether that was an offence that warranted arrest.
I once saw people fighting in the stand at a Sheffield Wednesday v Liverpool match. I was on the Kop, where I heard people saying that an upper-class punch-up was taking place.
The only other incident I saw which was anything like those related by my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) occurred at a non-league match at which Easington played Sunderland A. The Easington crowd refused to let the referee off the pitch at the end and chased him around throwing mud at him. Sunderland were 198 winning 1-0 at half time, but Easington won the match 2-1. These were the only violent incidents I have observed in a great deal of time spent watching football.
Several hon. Members have tabled questions about football, and I refer to three—two from the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and one from me. On 9 November at column 186, the hon. Member for Hendon, South received a written answer from the Minister for Sport giving details for the 1987–88 season of matches played and total arrests by division. In the first division there were 5.5 arrests per game; in the second, 4.4; in the third, 1.7; and in the forth, 1.9. That is hardly a massive problem that requires legislation to resolve it as opposed to present measures, which include television surveillance. There were 6,147 arrests in total. It sounds a great deal—it is about the average crowd at a Burnley football match. But Burnley play 23 home league games in a season, and there are 92 league clubs. If one relates the number of arrests to the total attendances, it becomes much more insignificant. It is no more significant than the number of cases of salmonella poisoning caused by eggs. Although there is a problem, we do not need measures that will frighten people and destroy football.
The second answer to the hon. Member for Hendon, South appears at column 628 of Hansard on 14 December and states that the statistics came fromthe Association of Chief Police Officers which collates statistics on arrests and ejections from football liaison officers at police forces throughout the country."—[Official Report, 14 December 1988; Vol. 143, c. 628.]If such statistics are readily available to the Department of the Environment, it is surprising that it took the Department so long to answer my question, which was tabled on 1 December. I did not receive an answer until 19 December, and then only after raising the matter in the House at business questions.
My question asked whether the Minister would list English league football clubs, together with the number of matches played at their grounds, the total season's attendance, the total arrests in association with such matches, the average attendance per match, the average number of arrests per match and the arrests as a proportion of attendance. I also asked him to make a statement about the number of charges and convictions that have arisen from such arrests. Eventually, I received an answer stating:Comparable figures are not available for charges nor for convictions arising from arrests.It is surprising that such information is not also supplied by football liaison officers. It is obvious that the number of convictions does not match the number of arrests.
The answer goes on to say, in a defensive way, that the statistics do not tell the whole story and that other matters should be mentioned. It says:Neither the ejections nor arrests reflect the substantially greater number of incidents of violence, hooliganism and vandalism at football league grounds. Furthermore, the police view remains that many matches provide the focus for aggressive and provocative behaviour, with violence never far below the surface.We are no longer talking about real violence, but about metaphysical violence. Dark looks and dirty thoughts must be taken into account when examining the statistics. That has to be done because the statistics are so inadequate. Over 75 per cent. of the 92 league clubs have records of fewer than five arrests per match. The subsequent charges will be considerably fewer than that. Only Scarborough and Exeter have arrest rates of over one 199 per thousand for last season. Scarborough was a new club in the fourth division and many of those arrests took place in the first two games that the team played.
The following teams have only one arrest per 10,000 spectators: Charlton, Norwich, Spurs, Watford, Manchester City, Oldham, Plymouth, Reading, Bury, Northampton, Preston, Wigan, Darlington, Leyton and Swansea. However, half of those clubs will be threatened by any move to introduce identity cards. The other week my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and I went to the Chesterfield-Mansfield game. Those two clubs have fewer than one arrest per match and are the type of teams that will be vulnerable following the change. Why should the overwhelming majority of third and fourth division clubs face bankruptcy when they have fewer than two arrests per match? Even 90 per cent. of first and second division clubs, where there is far more support, have fewer than 10 arrests per match.
Like the vast majority of football fans, I deplore violence at grounds and am aware of the many measures that have been introduced to enable the police to handle the situation more readily. The notion put forward by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) that police will no longer be required when plastic cards are introduced is incredible. The Minister is, however, blowing the whole matter up out of proportion as there are probably far more arrests outside nightclubs on a Saturday night than there are in football grounds.
I have been watching league football matches for 42 years. The first match that I saw was Sunderland against Grimsby in the first division. Sunderland had two arrests per 10,000 spectators last season and Grimsby nine arrests per 10,000 spectators. I have visited 30 of the 92 league grounds and would now call myself a casual supporter, but along with many others, I would stop going to matches. I shall not be going into any executive boxes to avoid providing an identity card and I would object to having to carry a passbook into the ground. Many other people will share that feeling. The statistics given in the answer that I have quoted show that the proposal is nonsense.
§ Mr. Stuart Randall (Kingston upon Hull, West)
I should like to take the opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) on making sure that we had this debate. I only wish that he could have used his considerable influence to have arranged it earlier in the day. However, we have had an interesting debate. The House agrees that no one likes violence. I was glad to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) reaffirm that point.
My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone made a number of comments about the Police Federation's belief that the scheme will not work. He referred to many of the practical problems of crowds at turnstiles, what will happen if the photograph on the card does not correspond with the face and who will deal with such problems—the stewards or the police. Those are matters of concern for the police and certainly for my excellent club, Hull City, as I have discovered from my discussions with police officers and directors of the club. 200 The debate is not about the report on identity cards, as you Madam Deputy Speaker said earlier. We are debating the broader issue of public order and that is why the home affairs spokesmen are present tonight on the Front Benches.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) is still in the Chamber. I do not like to attack hon. Members, but I was dismayed by the hon. Gentleman's speech. He spoke with great sincerity and his logic was impeccable; the lawyer's mind was evident. However, I found his remarks about the cost of policing quite staggering. He said that most of the cost is covered by ratepayers and not by the clubs. As the core of this debate is about public order and the Government's failure to get to grips with law and order, according to the logic used by the hon. Member for Banbury, one could argue that central Government should be paying the costs of policing instead of the ratepayers or the clubs.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) spoke with great authority as he is the chairman of the all-party football committee. We all listened with profound interest to what he said and in particular to his comment that possibly many clubs will go into liquidation and will have to close because of the impact that the scheme will have on gates. Many clubs are on the margin. If gates are reduced by 10, 15 or 20 per cent., many clubs will fail. That would be very sad.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde put his finger on the central issue. He referred to the national situation with regard to violent crime. The Government have failed miserably, and, although Ministers talk about combating crime, it is obvious from the level of violence that the Government are failing dismally. This debate is not about football. It is about violent crime in this country. The idea of dealing with the problem by playing around with identity cards is quite absurd.
My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) raised a very interesting point. He explained that, because the Government are failing in their policy of law and order to combat crime, the Prime Minister is involved on a steering committee to draw up proposals on identity cards. It is remarkable that the Prime Minister should be involved in such a matter, but that shows that the issue is central. My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield was right to claim that the cards are a diversion. The Government's law and order policy is failing and therefore they are using footbal as a scapegoat.
The conclusion that we can draw from today's debate is that unquestionably there is a lack of confidence in the Government's proposed measures to deal with public order and football. The Police Federation, the supporters, club directors and others lack confidence in the scheme and if it goes ahead it will destroy a considerable part of the game for reasons that are the responsibility not of clubs, but of the Government who are trying to get their national policy on law and order right.
This is a sad day for football. My hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) adequately and eloquently emphasised that the problem exists in Spain, on the street, and even at Henley regatta. Even the Conservative party conference has been cited. The hon. Member for Banbury laughs, and I can understand why he does, but it is a serious matter that there was violence at the Conservative party conference; it is not just a matter of football violence. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, 201 North-East spoke of there being more violence outside certain night clubs than there is at football grounds. The statistics prove him to be right. Why is so much emphasis being placed on football when the national crime aggregate exceeds that of football violence many times over? The reason, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield suggests, is that it creates a diversion.
Although we are not here dealing with Government business, clearly there is a difference of opinion between the Conservative and Opposition Benches. The hon. Member for Banbury spoke of trying to break the link between football and violence but I am convinced that attempting to do so with an identity scheme of the kind proposed is fallacious. I may add, without wishing in any way to be partisan, that until the Government get to grips with law and order generally, the problems within our football stadia and elsewhere will continue.
This debate has been interesting and has put the arguments on the table. The Government clearly should get off the back of football and instead get to grips with the problem of violent crime. The Government's law and order policies are failing the country, and for them to use football in the way that they are only damages the game. It is a game of which we are proud. It is our national sport. We on the Opposition Benches stick by our national sport, and we shall back it. Why do not the Government back football by getting off its back and tackling high crime levels? When they do that, we shall be on the way to improving the situation at our football grounds.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Douglas Hogg)
Perhaps it is fortunate that the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West (Mr. Randall) began his speech at 4.42 am, because had he made it at a more respectable time, there would have been more right hon. and hon. Members present in the Chamber to laugh at him. In truth, his speech was complacent, foolish, off the mark, and trivial.
It was trivial because the hon. Gentleman endeavoured to play down the level of football violence; because he tried to dissociate football from violence, which is not the correct thing to do; and because he failed to appreciate any of the substantial measures taken by the Government, in terms both of national law and order policies and, in particular, of those to be adopted at sports grounds.
Having listened to the debate for nearly one and one half hours, I may say that the only speaker who made any sense was my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry). The Opposition's failure to appreciate the depth of public anxiety is disgraceful. Their failure to recognise the clubs' inability to solve their own problems is regrettable, as is their failure to recognise the burdens imposed upon the police. I was struck most of all by the Opposition's wholly unconstructive and complacent attitude to the problems in question.
That cannot be said of the Government, who have already introduced a range of measures. It was clear to anyone who listened to Opposition Members' speeches as carefully as I did that, although it was not expressly stated, they accepted by implication that a number of measures promoted by the Government had been profoundly helpful. It might have been a good idea for them to state that in plain terms, for it would have added a certain credibility to the otherwise incredible.
202 Let me remind the House of some of the Government's measures. We begin with the Sporting Events (Control of Alcohol Etc.) Act 1985, which established firm controls on the sale and possession of alcohol at grounds and on football special coaches and trains. I remember that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) and I had an interesting debate about three years ago. There was an unholy alliance between us. I disliked the way in which the measure was carried through late at night and so did he, although my recollection is that he opposed most of its provisions. The difference between us is that I recognised that the Bill was a good thing, and I am delighted to say so. I do not remember the hon. Gentleman acknowledging that.
§ Mr. Hogg
No, I shall not give way.
We must recognise that that legislation was extremely helpful, as was the Public Order Act 1986, which has also had certain important consequences for football. It provided new offences of disorderly conduct and possession of fireworks or smoke bombs at matches, and provided the courts with the power to make exclusion orders prohibiting attendance at certain matches by convicted football hooligans. Exclusion orders have been a useful addition, but they are of only limited effectiveness in enforcing someone's exclusion.
Those two important pieces of legislation were carried through by the Government in the face of considerable opposition from the Labour Benches. We all now recognise that they have made a great difference to the effort to reduce violence at football matches. I have a shrewd suspicion that our membership schemes will have the same result. Labour Members will bang away in their normal boring and unconstructive way about how hopeless and useless such measures are, and in about three years' time, with long faces and a considerable lack of self-regard, they will have to admit that our legislation has been rather helpful and say that they are sorry that they said such beastly things about it.
We have also encouraged the police by improving the exchange of information between forces in the planning of policing of matches. Liaison between the police and football authorities has also been improved, and the introduction of closed-circuit television has been of great value.
Inevitably much of our debate has centred on the football membership scheme. The working party's report has recommended the introduction of a national membership scheme which will permit the exclusion from football grounds of known trouble-makers. Let us reflect for a moment on what is involved. The requirement to obtain a membership card is no doubt a slight inconvenience, although I think that the objections to it have been grossly exaggerated, but it strikes me that no Opposition Member has grasped or appreciated the enormous value that football clubs can obtain from such a scheme. Let us start with the obvious one: if we are able by this method to exclude known trouble-makers from the grounds—which is what I think will happen—the grounds will become infinitely more attractive to ordinary people, who will over a period of time attend in ever-increasing numbers.
I am amazed by the Opposition's unconstructive approach to these matters. For the first time ever clubs will 203 have a comprehensive list of their members for whom they will be able to provide far more facilities than ever before.[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, West is babbling on but he is incapable of realising that the Government are offering to the football industry a unique opportunity not just to attract more and different people to their grounds but to provide facilities that they have never previously contemplated. An orderly environment, the possession of membership lists and the certainty and confidence that that will give to their members is a new beginning for football—
§ 5 am
§ Mr. Ray Whitney (Wycombe)
I am very grateful to have this opportunity to raise a subject that is crucial to this country and to western Europe as a whole—the future of the European Community. Europe has embarked upon a great enterprise. We embarked upon it somewhat belatedly. In recent years, however, we have made an important contribution to it. Our future is entirely bound up with that great enterprise.
I am, however, concerned about the general management and co-ordination of Her Majesty's Government's policy for the development of the European Community. My concern is encapsulated in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Bruges on 20 September. I do not quarrel with the major points that my right hon. Friend made, but I am concerned about the impact of her speech.
My right hon. Friend's speech contained five principles. Her first principle was willing and active co-operation between independent sovereign states. Who could quarrel with that? Few of us wish to see the creation of a federal state of Europe. We want to maintain our sovereign, independent states. However, we must surely wish to emphasise the need for active co-operation.
My right hon. Friend's second principle—she referred to it as the guiding principle—was that Community policies must tackle the problems in a practical way. I can only say amen to that.
My right hon. Friend's third principle was that Community policies should encourage enterprise. This country's experience during the last 10 years demonstrates that that approach generates wealth and promotes the wellbeing of our people. We must therefore continue to promote, by means of the European Community, policies that foster enterprise.
My right hon. Friend's fourth principle was that Europe should not adopt a protectionist policy. There has been growing concern in the rest of the world about the development of a fortress Europe. I am glad that the recent Rhodes comuniqué suggested that those concerns are fully appreciated by all the member countries of the EEC. We are therefore on the way to avoiding the threat to world trade that a fortress Europe policy would pose.
My right hon. Friend's fifth principle was that Europe must continue to maintain a sure defence through the mechanism of NATO. At a time when we must take very careful account of the pressures that are generated in international politics by the developments in the Soviet Union, that must be right. We all share the great desire for the words of President Gorbachev to be translated into action and reality. Until that is done, the majority of British people well understand the importance of maintaining a sure defence, and that can be achieved only through NATO.
I have no quarrels with the five principles enunciated by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister at Bruges. However, I certainly have a strong quarrel with the effect and the impact of that speech and subsequent speeches and actions by Her Majesty's Government in regard to our co-operation with the European Community.
There is no doubt that the Bruges speech was very popular in Britain. That is not entirely a matter for congratulation among my right hon. and hon. Friends. 205 Sadly, even today, what I would call an Uncle Matthew spirit remains in the British populace. The House will recall in the novels of Nancy Mitford a splendid character called Uncle Matthew who spent a great deal of his time chanting that "wogs begin at Calais".
It is sad and regrettable that, despite the internationalisation that has taken place in the past two or three decades, that sentiment is still all too strong among the electorate in Britain. While there is a fundamental understanding of the need for international co-operation, and, as has been demonstrated on a number of occasions, a fundamental appreciation that we belong to Europe and must continue to co-operate with western Europe, just below the surface remains the Uncle Matthew tendency. There is no doubt that the impact of the Bruges speech was to appeal to the Uncle Matthew vote in Britain.
It should have given a lead to the nation and a signal to our European partners that we are determined to make a pre-eminent contribution to the development of the European Community, in particular to the moves which were required to achieve the objectives for 1992. Sadly, the impact and impression, as opposed to the content of the Bruges speech, encouraged those who have never accepted membership of the European Community. Although the overwhelming majority in Britain recognise that our future must lie in a close relationship with Europe while retaining our sovereignty, that small minority has consistently rejected that democratic decision. That anti-European element was given a great boost by the impact of the Bruges speech. We have seen it in the House.
The Bruges speech also dismayed our friends in the European Community, those whose general approach to the affairs of the European Community, and whose objectives, are virtually identical to ours. That does not apply to every member of the Community. That would be impossible to achieve. It would not be sensible to expect it in a Community of 12 nations, perhaps three of which have notionally Socialist Governments, although the term "Socialism" is arguable and has a variety of meanings in different countries. In general, our friends among our Community partners were seriously discomforted by the impact of the Bruges speech and the attitudes which it revealed. It makes it more difficult for them to co-operate with us item by item in the various issues and debates on which we need their support.
Another effect of the new attitude of challenge and, one might say, agnosticism, to some aspects of the move towards closer co-operation with our European partners has been the confusion of British business. I pay tribute to the achievements of the Department of Trade and Industry over the past 12 months in alerting British industry to the demands, opportunities and challenges of 1992. I am advised that our European Community partners regard our achievements as a model of how it should be done. We used to spend our time denigrating ourselves—we still have traces of that tendency—and believing that other countries were ahead of us and doing things better. I am delighted to say that in developing awareness of the significance of 1992, other European countries have recognised the British Government's achievements, particularly the Department of Trade and Industry and that has brought other Europeans to Britain to learn how it should be done.
It is regrettable that British industry is confused. I have experience of that over a wide range of contacts throughout British industry. One Government 206 Department is committed and enthusiastic about the principle of developing the single market and our European contacts, but significantly different noises are emerging from No. 10 and No. 11 Downing street. It is not surprising that that has led to the impression of incoherence in Government policy, which is damaging to United Kingdom interests.
§ Mr. Whitney
It is always embarrassing for me to find support from the Labour party. Its attitude to Europe does not bear a moment's consideration, as it is confused and weak, so it is all the more regrettable that my party appears to be falling into some of the traps in which the Labour party has been wallowing for many years and from which it shows no sign of escaping.
I am far from advocating total acceptance of everything that comes from Brussels or everything put to us by our European Community partners. As a past member of the diplomatic service and a Minister in the Foreign Office, I am aware of the extraordinary difficulties and complexities involved in dealing with the Community. It would be strange were it to be otherwise. There are 12 nations with many historical and cultural differences and many different national economic interests. However, the frustrations and challenges of welding together the European Community must be more than worth while.
It is crucial to Britain's future as well as that of western Europea to maintain the impetus of the Europen Community. Conservative Members understand—I am not sure about Opposition Members—that the broad forces of history mean that if western Europe is to compete with the north American complex, the Japanese and the Pacific rim complex, it must continue to develop a high level of co-operation. The slog of day-to-day negotiation, in which Ministers and Government officials are involved in Brussels and elsewhere, must be continued issue by issue and boring point by boring point, and I should like to claim a deep appreciation of those difficulties.
The impression is being given that we are making those difficulties greater than they need be. We should offer a more flexible approach to frontiers and consider extremely positively the possibility of national identity cards, which has many attractions and links with the previous debate about the problems of football hooliganism. Paragraph 6 of the working party's report on football hooliganism specifically excluded examination of the issue of identity cards, as it was outside its terms of reference. I strongly urge the Government to give early and positive consideration to that possibility, which would bring benefits to many sectors, including the reduction of frontier controls, which must surely be one of the major elements of the single European market, to which we are committed and which has such clear advantages for the United Kingdom.
The same positive spirit is required in our approach to the complex issues of the harmonisation of VAT rates and excise duties. The same applies to the long-running question of our participation in the European monetary system. The issue will be given greater impetus as we approach the 1990s and the complete freeing of exchange controls. The Government, with foresight and courage, led the way nine years ago by abolishing exchange controls. 207 We are all aware of the opportunities offered to the City of London and the financial services sector, which is so vibrant and dominant.
The issue of European monetary co-operation must surely be tackled. For many years the Government have said that it will be considered when the time and exchange rate are right. As hon. Members have said, the pound has been high and low, but at some point we must judge the time to be right; we cannot postpone a decision for much longer. Given the propensity to inflation, which seems so deep-seated in Britain, it would be a particular benefit to take a positive approach to the greater harmonisation and involvement of Britain's economy and financial institutions with those of Europe. We can avoid the dangers while receiving the benefits.
I am deeply concerned about the lack of coherence in Government policy, some of the negative aspects of which have been revealed on a depressingly personal basis. We may not agree with the contributions of Lord Cockfield or Mr. Delors, but in matters in respect of which there is a broad historical sweep of near-inevitability, we must not miss the bus out of some pique or apprehension about the influence of one individual. The issues at stake are far greater than that.
Part of the responsibility for the dangers that I see emerging must rest with this Chamber. Frankly, the House and the country have never seriously become engaged in the basic issues of Europe, as several other European Community partners have done. We saw the manifestation of that in the results of the central Hampshire European parliamentary by-election. I am delighted to say that the Conservative candidate won, but I understand that he won on a vote of 12 per cent. of the electorate. A vote of such derisory proportions is very sad.
§ Mr. Whitney
To be second out of a vote of 12 per cent. is not something from which even the Labour party, in its present desperate state, should take comfort.
I take it that we—even the Labour party—are now somewhat mildly committed to the European concept. Only 12 per cent. of the voters of central Hampshire decided to turn out. We must attach blame to the Chamber as a whole. All hon. Members know that, for many years now, the appearance on the Order Paper of European Community documents X, Y and Z has been the death knell of serious debate. We all know that, at the maximum, 12 hon. Members are regular attenders at such debates. There are perhaps two hon. Members who risk giving the impression that they will accept anything from Brussels, unseen and unsigned, and that they will accept anything that Brussels says. It is a false impression, but it is one that they risk having attributed to them.
There are half a dozen or perhaps 10 hon. Members who are part of the small minority in the country who have simply never accepted the judgment of the electorate of this country that we are part of Europe, that we must make a firm contribution to it and make a leading contribution to the development of co-operation with our European allies. The cause of moderation, of pragmatism, of balance, of criticising some things, of explaining everything and accepting most of what comes from 208 Brussels is left to the unfortunate inhabitant of the Government Front Bench at the time. The rest is silence. The mechanisms of the House should be used more effectively.
I fully accept my personal share of the blame. We should no longer abandon European debates to excessive enthusiasts⁁the excessive anti-Europeans and pro-Europeans. The voice of the solid centre—I claim to be a member of it—needs to be heard much more. We must not leave the matter to the fanatics on both sides of the House.
In particular, it is time for the Government to take another look at their overall position as we move to 1992 and to co-ordinate and cohere more effectively to actions across the spectrum to take account of the fact that we signed the Single European Act. From some Ministers' statements, one might from time to time infer that they have not read the Single European Act. Anyone would think that they had taken the country through it in a fit of oblivion, without understanding majority voting and all that was implied. The fact is that we signed the Single European Act; we understood it.
The Conservative party has a tradition of commitment to the European concept that has lasted for decades. That does not mean that we accept every daft idea—every social harmonisation proposal—that comes out of Europe. If we risk being caricatured as adopting a generally carping and negative attitude to the principles of co-operation, we make it much more difficult to achieve the objectives that we must achieve. We make it much more difficult to defend British interests if we appear to be negative. We also make it more difficult for our friends in Europe to help us to achieve those objectives.
Let us look again at the signature of the Single European Act. It might be thought that some wicked, slippery, devious members of my former service, the diplomatic service, somehow slipped the measure through. I do not think that that is likely; I have too much respect for my right hon. Friends in the Government to believe that that can possibly have happened.
I pin most of my hopes on a very important memorandum that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister addressed to her colleagues in August 1984. The Government as a whole would do well to take that memorandum out of the archives and dust it down. They should confirm that the principles enunciated in it remain the mainspring of the Government's approach to Europe and to the task of achieving the goals of 1992.
My right hon. Friend made it very clear that what was needed wasa series of new policies to promote the economic, social and political growthon which the future well-being of the Community depended. She said:This means giving greater depth to the Community in both its internal and external activities.She spoke of the need to createa genuine common market in goods and services which is envisaged in the Treaty of Romebut said that that could be achieved only bya sustained effort to remove the remaining obstacles to intra-Community trade.Only by that means could we enablethe citizens of Europe to benefit from the dynamic effects of the fully integrated common market with immense purchasing power.209 My right hon. Friend spoke about the need to co-operate on environmental matters. That was four years ago, which shows that our commitment to green policies is by no means a recent innovation.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that it must be our objectiveto aim beyond the Common Commercial Policy through Political Cooperation towards common approach to external affairs.That, too, tends to be forgotten as we concentrate on economic issues and the benefits that we rightly hope to obtain.
My right hon. Friend pointed out that the Commission was central to the functioning of the Community and that Europe needs to advance its internal development. One of the objectives that she enunciated was toheighten the consciousness among our citizens of what unites us.In recent months, too much effort has been made to heighten consciousness of what divides us. We are perfectly well aware of what divides us and we need more emphasis on the positive aspects. Certainly the nation and the British business community needs it. If we are to achieve all that 1992 offers, the country needs a much more positive lead from the Government in all those areas.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
I would not wish to embarrass the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney), by saying that he made a brave and interesting speech—as he did on 3 April 1982 and on several other occasions. In normal circumstances it would not have occurred to me at 5.30 am or at any other hour to protest about the appointment of a British Commissioner in the Community or even to put in for a Consolidated Fund debate on the appointment of British Commissioners.
The right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) is probably the most academically successful Member of any British Cabinet since 1979 and arguably of any recent Administration. Moreover, as I am reminded in my many questions, alas unreached, to the Prime Minister, he has important experience of the great offices of state as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, which should be invaluable in a vice-president of the European Commission. I hope that I am not being churlish if I wonder sotto voce whether his behaviour as Home Secretary, as indicated in his first speech on capital punishment and the broadcasting authorities, gave certain doubts about his attitude and judgment.
As a member of the indirectly elected European Parliament from 1976–79, I formed the impression that attitude and judgment are extremely important if a Commissioner is to be effective with his colleagues on the Commission. I think of Finn Olav Gundelach and Guido Brunner, both extremely effective Commissioners who were guests in my constituency and whom I knew well, of Pierre Lardinois and Claude Cheysson, with whom I worked, and of my excellent working relationship with Christopher Soames and George Thomson. I say this having had four years' experience in the Parliament.
In one crucial respect circumstances are simply not normal. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has a cloud hanging over him and until such time as that cloud has been lifted—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)
Order. I should remind the hon. Gentleman at this point that, to the best of my knowledge, the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) is a Member of this House and the hon. Gentleman must not reflect on either his integrity or honour.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman might have been here for a debate on the European Community. He has been appointed vice-president of the Commission and it is extremely odd that when the House of Commons debates the future of the Community he should not bother to come.
My point is that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should not be going as British vice-president to the Commission, let alone as the Commissioner of financial institutions. This is neither the time nor the place to regurgitate as I did on 28 July 1986, at column 851, or on 22 April 1988, at column 1164, the details of the Westland affair. I simply remind the House that we are required to believe that over 14 days in January 1986 the right hon. and learned Gentleman behaved in such a way—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is doing precisely that against which I cautioned him. I hope that he will not make a speech aimed at denigrating the character of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I do not want to denigrate anybody's character. I am sticking very carefully to fact, and the fact of the matter is that the way in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman treated his civil servants, his Cabinet colleagues and his Prime Minister about a Law Officer's letter was not acceptable to the House. If we do not believe that about the right hon. and learned Gentleman, we can only conclude that someone else was to blame for the outrageous treatment of the Solicitor-General's letter. That someone else could only be Mr. Charles Powell, Mr. Bernard Ingham and the Prime Minister herself.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I shall not allow the hon. Gentleman to pursue that line under the debate heading that is before us. The hon. Gentleman must not use this debate to reopen such matters when, on a number of occasions, he has been cautioned about his excesses.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is to go to the Commission, I think we can agree that he should go proud, that he should go clear and that he should go absolved from all blame of misleading his colleagues in Parliament on any occasion, especially during the Westland affair. As matters stand, the right hon. and learned Gentleman is the scapegoat. Nobody else is carrying the can. It is a disgrace to our country and to our Parliament that a colleague should be going to one of the most prestigious jobs in the Community—we shall leave the salary out of it—that Britain can offer any of our countrymen when this affair has not been cleared up.
There is another pertinent consideration. No other Minister on any occasion has treated a Select Committee of the House as the right hon. and learned Gentleman treated the Select Commitee on Westland. None of us who witnessed it has in our parliamentary lifetimes seen behaviour to compare with the arrogant stonewalling that the right hon. and learned Member demonstrated when he refused to answer legitimate questions put by parliamentary colleagues. Yet this is the colleague that we send—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman heard me the first time, when I said that he must not seek to make a speech that would reflect adversely on the honour or integrity of the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks, but he is persisting in doing precisely that. He must not persist; he must cease to do that.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am just referring to his parliamentary behaviour. Surely it is legitimate to comment on the unprecedented parliamentary behaviour of a right hon. and learned Gentleman when appearing before a Select Committee of the House. We must ask why. Because the appointment is a reward forced on the Prime Minister in recognition of the greatest service that a Cabinet Minister in such circumstances can render the occupant of Downing street, and that is the supreme service—of silence.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman is quite clearly completely disregarding the advice that I have offered to him. If he continues to persist with the line he is pursuing, I shall have no option but to instruct him to resume his seat and terminate his speech.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I find that absolutely extraordinary, because the words are carefully chosen and the subject is entirely in order. What we are considering—incidentally, this is the last opportunity for consideration before his appointment—is the sending of one of our number as vice-president of the Commission, who was the recipient of a unique resignatory letter from the Prime Minister, which ended by saying:I hope it will not be long before you return to high office to continue your ministerial career".
The Prime Minister has never said that to anyone before. She certainly did not say it to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). This is absolutely unique. I say, as a matter of fact, that it looks to many of us that the vice-presidency of the European Commission is a second-best compromise pay-off for the promised Cabinet job.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have given sufficient warnings to the hon. Gentleman, but he is persisting in disregarding my advice. I have no option but to tell him to resume his seat and terminate his speech.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman must not persist in disregarding a ruling from the Chair. I have given the hon. Gentleman an instruction, and he knows sufficiently well that he must obey it.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am not prepared to debate my ruling with the hon. Gentleman. He must resume his seat, otherwise—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I have no option but to instruct the hon. Gentleman to withdraw from the Chamber for the remainder of this day's sitting.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am disregarding your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker, because it is totally unreasonable, and what is at issue—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I am on my feet. I will offer some advice to the hon. Gentleman. It may benefit all of us if we reflect on what the hon. Gentleman has said and if he reflects on what he has said and on what I have ruled. I suspend the sitting for five minutes.
§ Sitting suspended.5.49 am
§ On resuming—
§ Mr. Dalyell
On the ground that I do not wish to embarrass the Chair, because I understand that there are not enough Members here for you to name me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or in any way to inhibit my colleagues who have stayed up all night to take part in their debates, I shall withdraw to facilitate matters.
§ The hon. Member then withdrew.5.50 am
§ Mr. George Robertson (Hamilton)
This must be the only Parliament in the European Community, or in the world, that would choose to debate such an important and far-reaching subject as this at 10 minutes to six in the morning. It is perverse and almost eccentric that we should be having this debate now. I congratulate the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on securing this debate under the Consolidated Fund, but I cannot commend him on the fact that he drew a 5 am start.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) said in the less controversial part of his speech, the hon. Member for Wycombe made a brave speech which, at another time of the day, might have been regarded as highly controversial. When the outside world reads Hansard in 48 hours' time, his speech may yet put him on the front pages.
The hon. Gentleman identified several points that are of interest to the House. I take issue with his comment that the Prime Minister's speech in Bruges was popular and that that was regrettable. I do not believe that her speech was popular. The only test of opinion on it was in a poll conducted for The Mail on Sunday a couple of weeks later. It showed that the Prime Minister was out of tune with what the majority of the British people think about the future of Europe. Another reason why it was not popular with the public was that it was insincere. It contrasted with her decisions in the past on the European Community, and 213 the British people do not easily take to the double standards represented by what she said at the College of Europe.
The hon. Member for Wycombe admitted mea culpa on not attending enough European Community debates. As one who is obliged because of his position to attend all these debates, I know that they attract only small, rarefied audiences. If the hon. Gentleman is saying that he will attend our debates and make a positive contribution to them, the whole House will thoroughly applaud it.
The hon. Gentleman said that Ministers were giving the impression of not having read the Single European Act. I spent many hours on the Floor of the House when the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986, which brought the Single European Act into force, went through all its stages. I can tell the hon. Gentleman that Ministers were aware of what was going on. The Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who sadly is not with us tonight—no one regrets that more than the Under-Secretary of State himself—knew the implications of majority voting, increased powers for the European Parliament and moves towards further political co-operation. The only person who was unaware of what the Single European Act meant was the one who agreed that it should be signed. The occupant of No. 10 Downing street is going through hoops, trying desperately to escape from the implications of what she has decided.
The notion that it was a nasty idea slipped through by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and by the subversive members of the Diplomatic Service beggars belief when we remember that the Prime Minister voted in the Lobby on the European Communities (Amendment) Bill 1986, including voting for the guillotine when the House's consideration of that vital measure was truncacted after an all-too-brief debate. There is a further irony, as the right hon. Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen)—who has now apparently joined the ranks of CND, and clearly regrets his role in the Single European Act—was the Leader of the House who gave us the guillotine on that measure.
The hon. Member for Wycombe pinpointed the dilemma faced by the Government. That dilemma is caused by the fact that the Prime Minister acts both as Government and Opposition. She signed the Single European Act and then went to the College of Europe denouncing everything in it. She signed the Fontainebleau agreement on the future financing of the Community and shortly afterwards denounced the basis of the settlement. With a Prime Minister who can act both as Prime Minister and as Leader of the Opposition, it is far from surprising that the hon. Member for Wycombe, a Government loyalist, finds the Government's position incoherent. He is not alone in that.
Business finds that incoherence confusing and our partners in the European Community find it difficult to understand. They find it especially difficult to understand why the Prime Minister insists on labelling them all as "Socialists and standardisers", since the people whom she appears to include in that gratuitous insult include Chancellor Kohl of West Germany, a good Christian Democrat, and Prime Minister Dimita of Italy, another Christian Democrat of a Right-wing persuasion. However, they all come in for that incredible hostility and sloganising abuse to which the Prime Minister is so prone.
There is incoherence between the Prime Minister's actions in agreeing to the Single European Act and her 214 rhetoric in denouncing it shortly afterwards when she had forced it through the House. There are also incoherences and inconsistencies in Government. The Prime Minister said in Bruges:The Community … must not be ossified by endless regulation.She said in the most widely quoted part of that speech:We have not successfully rolled back the frontiers of the state in Britain, only to see them reimposed at a European level, with a European super-state exercising a new dominance from Brussels.
On 23 November, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the right hon. Member for Wallasey, made a speech of equal importance at a management centre Europe conference on industrial relations in Europe. Apparently out of touch with her leader, she said:We need progress on the agreed programme of action on health and safety at work … 1992 gives us a unique opportunity for concerted progress in combating unemployment. With over 15 and a half million jobless, unemployment remains the EC's biggest priority. Member state Governments must accord it the priority it deserves.As a final, crushing blow to the Prime Minister's view of the Europe, the Minister of State said:Britain is sometimes charged with having no interest in the social development of Europe. This is simply not true. There must be a social dimension to the single market.If the hon. Member for Wycombe, who has, after all, been discarded from the Foreign Office despite his pretences at loyalism, finds the Government's actions incoherent, surely the Minister of State, who is still within the charmed magic circle, even temporarily—ladies are exiting from the Government rather quickly these days—is pointing to a more detailed contrast with what is happening.
In the lead-up to the European elections, we are beginning to see the stark contrast between the different visions of Europe. The Prime Minister's vision is one of deregulation, liberalisation and an unrestrained free market without barriers or constraints. Hers is the vision of big Europe for big business, with the weak going to the wall and the mighty flourishing and where standards of conduct and employment, whether achieved through law or negotiation, are abandoned in pursuit of profit.
In contrast to that Thatcherite vision of Europe, there is the Opposition's view of a Europe where growth is encouraged, but where balance in industry, employment and the environment is assured and guaranteed. In our view of Europe, the vulnerable regions, people, industries and firms receive protection from crude market forces. Our vision of Europe is one in which "high standards", to quote the Single European Act, in the workplace, in peripheral areas and in industrial activity is assured. For example, in research and technology the interests of the public will never be reflected in short-term drives for profit. Those areas will be set and policed by accountable public institutions.
The Prime Minister regards the European Community as a huge test bed for a continental Thatcherite experiment. If we lived in more enlightened days and the hon. Member for Wycombe was in charge of Government policy on the single market and the Labour party's views ruled rather than the more philistine values on the Government Benches, Europe would be the true and appropriate location for a real bid to ensure our children's future. It would be a Europe in which joint action by Governments could tackle unemployment and the special misery and waste of youth unemployment and where 215 training in skills could be achieved on a continental level to face the challenges from the United States of America and Japan.
The hon. Member for Wycombe spelt out those challenges only too eloquently. It would be a Europe of pooled resources where universities and technical centres could be harnessed to build Europe's new competitive edge. It would be a Europe in which the environmental problems that know no frontiers and which pervade our continent could, with cash and the political will, be confronted properly. That is what Europe should be about. It should not be about the narrow, short-sighted pursuit of mega-business moderated only by fashionable words, but with no action on the green issues. That latter approach singles out our Prime Minister from the more aware and socially concerned European leaders today.
So many issues arise from the debate that I do not intend to tackle them all. Perhaps in due course the Government will give us time to debate the six-monthly report of the European Community, which always disappears over the horizon every time that it appears on the agenda. However, a number of issues give cause for concern to which the Minister seconded here to do night duty on behalf of his right hon. Friend the Minister of State can give us some answers. For example, I would like to know what happened at the meeting attended by a Minister from the Department of Employment at which some decisions were taken about improving standards of health and safety.
On Saturday,The Guardian reportedBritain drags feet on 'Social Europe' plans.
It appears that a British Minister stood in the way of an agreement designed to raise common health and safety standards, and that an unnamed British official—we return to the unnamed officials mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell)—commented that there isa conflict between British legal traditions and the absolute guarantees of protection against risk favoured by `continental' governments.That attempted sabotage by the British Government was reported last Saturday. Today's newspapers only touch on the matter, but perhaps the Minister will give the House the benefit of his superior knowledge and reveal precisely what happened at that meeting of the Council. It is so rare for the House to hear anything of Council meetings.
Can the Minister say what is the United Kingdom's response to the Court of Auditor's report on the common agricultural policy, in respect of fraud and discrepancies, which was published on 13 December? That report has two implications for the United Kingdom. First, it throws doubt on guarantees obtained by the Prime Minister at the penultimate European summit and on the legally binding guarantees on agricultural production agreed then.
The Court of Auditors identified a form of creative accountancy that the British Government would outlaw in this country, whereby the European Community manipulates its annual budget by cutting short the budget year for farm expenditure, once preset ceilings are reached. That is an ingenious scheme and one that could be adopted by local councils simply reaching their guideline totals and then declaring their financial year to be at an end. There would be no problems for local authorities if they could adopt that form of creative accountancy.
216 The report's second implication for the United Kingdom taxpayer is that vast amounts of money are being wasted not just because of negligence—although that accounts for a substantial proportion—but by an equal if not greater amount through fraud. A vast sum of United Kingdom taxpayers' money, as well as that of taxpayers in other member states, if being wasted as a result of sophisticated, highly lucrative and well organised fraud existing on a large scale, and identified but underestimated by the Court of Auditors. It will be interesting to know the Government's view on that subject.
Finally, will the Minister enlighten the House in respect of leaks appearing in certain newspapers, about a document arising out of the Delors committee, established at the Brussels summit to investigate monetary union? I refer to an article by Mr. Peter Norman, published in theFinancial Times on 12 December, from which it appears that the committee reached the conclusion that certain of the Community's regions, including many of the United Kingdom's most fragile regions, risk considerable suffering if the momentum towards European monetary union gathers support at the pace being suggested by certain European maximalists.
In the Financial Times article, Dr. Helmut Schlesinger, deputy governor of the Bundesbank, warns that 1992 could lead toa further relative decline in already structurally weak regions and a deterioration in the trade balances of less competitive members of the European monetary system.That is a serious allegation and conclusion to emerge from a committee established to take forward the momentum for European monetary union.
Although it is late in the evening, and although the Minister, like other right hon. and hon. Members, is not at his brightest, we have now a rare opportunity to secure a ministerial reply to those important questions. I hope that the Minister, when winding up, will address his mind to them, as well as to the significant points raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Eggar)
I much enjoyed listening to the fantasies of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson). I must say that he has worked hard in seeking to develop a sensible and coherent Opposition policy on Europe and I wish him well in his continuing fight, but his description of the Opposition view of Europe was not, I suspect, universally shared by hon. Members on the Benches behind him.
Let me first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr. Whitney) on his success in the ballot, while not entirely congratulating him on the timing of that success. I think that the whole House listened to his contribution with considerable interest. I remember vividly his speech in April 1982 and tonight's speech continued in the tradition which he started then. Whatever view we hold of what he said, it was a courageous and consistent speech.
Let me next deal with some of the individual points that have been made, and apologise sincerely for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, who I am sure would much rather be here at this time of the morning than attending the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels. The 217 House will be looking forward to the contributions by my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe to the various scrutiny debates on European documents. An interesting discussion is now in progress—it is not a matter for Ministers in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—about how we manage our scrutiny and assessment of European legislation, and I am sure that that debate will continue.
My hon. Friend commented on the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in Bruges. Unlike, I suspect, the hon. Member for Hamilton, he had clearly read the speech in considerable detail, and he drew attention to the powerful points made in it. The bedrock of my right hon. Friend's speech was her clear statement that Britain's destiny is in Europe, and that Britain is as committed to the European Community as any other member country.
Of course the Europe of the future will continue to be made up of different national personalities and traditions. It is not only my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who believes that; Chancellor Kohl of the Federal Republic of Germany has said clearly that the construction of Europe must not mean the suppression of national identities. All of us in Europe want to build a community that is able to ensure the future prosperity and security of its peoples in the harshly competitive world to which my right hon. Friend referred. Her message is that Europeans should work closely and effectively together on the things that we do better together, rather than on things that we do better alone.
My hon. Friend also referred to frontier controls. It will be important, because of 1992, to minimise delays at frontiers and to make travel easier for EC citizens. However, that does not mean that all frontier controls must be abolished. The EC needs a mechanism that is able to combat terrorism, crime, drug trafficking and illegal immigration. The Rhodes summit reaffirmed that requirement and linked the reduction of further frontier checks with more effective co-operation between member states. As a result of the Rhodes summit, national co-ordinators are to be appointed. They will be responsible for providing assistance over frontier problems.
Not for the first time, the hon. Member for Hamilton ought not to rely on reports in The Guardian. Agreement was reached on health and safety matters at the Council meeting last Friday. I understand that a parliamentary question is to be answered in the near future. It will comment on the outcome of the Council meeting. The hon. Gentleman was right to point out that the Council had to deal with a legal problem, but we believe that there has been a satisfactory outcome. I am sure that he will be scurrying to Hansard to read the answer.
The hon. Gentleman referred to progress on monetary co-operation in the so-called Delors committee. The committee's discussions continue. It is due to complete its proceedings in good time to enable the Minister for Economic Affairs and the Minister for Finance to examine the committee's recommendations before the European Council meeting in Madrid.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said that he thought that the United Kingdom was being left behind on monetary co-operation. However, we have led the way over the abolition of restrictions on the movement of capital and exchange controls. That is a fundamental first step, and we are delighted that the rest of the Community is following our example. A practical sign of our 218 commitment to progress is the introduction of the ecu-denominated Treasury bond. That is an important step.
The hon. Member for Hamilton, casting around for things to say—for which I do not blame him at this time in the morning—asked about the annual report of the Court of Auditors and referred to agriculture fraud. The report states that futher action needs to be taken. We intend fully to support the report. That is consistent with our approach to agriculture. We have been one of the leaders in the fight against fraud in the EC.
The hon. Member for Hamilton expressed concern about the so-called 10-month year. That was a one-off measure to which the hon. Member has referred on previous occasions. It was adopted by the Council in October 1987. At the February meeting of the Council in Brussels, a two-and-a-half month delay was agreed for the payment of advances. We believe that the Council's decision will improve budgetary control over agriculture spending.
This debate provides a valuable opportunity to assess the state of the European Community at the end of 1988 and to look briefly at some of the prospects for next year.
In 1988 we have seen major changes in the way in which the Community's finances are run. I refer in particular to the rules governing the operation of the CAP. In February, the Council reached agreement on a series of stabilisers for cereals, oil seeds and other principle agricultural commodities. The Community has given those stabilisers legal backing through a series of detailed regulations. For the first time, we now have an important automatic mechanism for controlling the growth of financial support to the agricultural sector, a signal to the outside world that we really mean to control the CAP.
The stabilisers are working. Since the summer there have been automatic price cuts for a series of crops. It is intended that there will be a 3 per cent. price cut in cereals in 1989. We have also witnessed major reductions in surplus stocks of agricultural products; for example, beef stocks have fallen by 25 per cent. during the past 12 months.
The second major element of improved budget discipline agreed last February was a legally binding financial guideline for agricultural spending. In future, spending on the CAP will be able to grow by no more than three quarters of the rate of Community GNP. That is about 2 per cent. per annum in real terms. That means that CAP support will represent a steadily shrinking percentage of the Community's GNP.
In the first budget introduced under the new procedures, provision for agriculture is fully £1.2 billion below the guideline agreed in February. I am sure that we all welcome that development.
Hon. Members may have felt something missing from their lives this year—the budget crisis which normally reverberates around the Community at this time of year. The peaceful, almost routine procedure in which the 1989 budget has been adopted is a good illustration of the way in which the Community has acknowledged the truth of a persistent United Kingdom theme that a sound Community cannot be built on unsound foundations. The future financing agreement that we secured in February at least gives the Community a sound foundation of budgetary discipline. All parties—the Commission, the Council and the Parliament—now accept that that reform was right, was long overdue and must continue. 219 [The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and commonwealth Affairs]
At the Hanover European Council in June, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and her colleagues agreed that progress towards the single market is now irreversible. That means that we really will have a single market with all the opportunities that that will bring for British and European business. Of course, as the House knows, there is a great deal still to be done. The Hanover Council laid down four priorities for work in the immediate future which are important for the United Kingdom.
The Greek presidency in the second half of this year has made solid progress, for example by achieving a common position on the public works directive and by opening up public procurement to competition throughout the Community. That benefits the consumer and British business. The Greeks have also put together a package of key food law measures—a matter to which we attach great importance. I hope that further progress will be made at the last internal market Council for the year which is taking place tomorrow.
The Spanish presidency will begin work in the new year with a fair wind. The priorities fixed at Hanover were confirmed at the recent Rhodes Council. There is plenty for the Spanish presidency to do, and for the French presidency that follows it.
Liberalisation, competition and deregulation must not be limited to the Community's internal affairs. The Rhodes European Council devoted considerable time to discussing the Community's role in the world. Heads of Government issued a declaration emphasising the Community's important contribution to sustaining a liberal economic and trading environment—a clear message to the world that 1992 will not lead to greater external protection as internal barriers come down. In other words, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe said, there will be no fortress Europe.
We want the single market to contribute directly to the greater liberalisation of world trade. That liberalisation is essential if the world economy is to continue to expand. The best way to pursue that aim is through multilateral negotiations in the GATT. The United Kingdom and all 220 member states want the multilateral system to be strengthened and expanded. The current Uruguay round is essential to that process. As the House knows, we are now at the halfway point of the round. Some good progress has been made but there is still much to do.
We were disappointed when the ministerial meeting earlier this month was unable to agree on a detailed framework for negotiations on the reform of agriculture. The Community made great efforts to find common ground with the United States. However, the United States insisted on pressing for a commitment to the total elimination of agricultural support by an agreed deadline. In our view, that was not politically feasible. We trust that the new United States Administration will find it possible to be more flexible. All concerned will have to work constructively in the coming weeks if agreement is to be achieved. We shall be doing all that we can to achieve that end.
The strengthening of the financial foundations of the Community, the progress towards the single market within the Community and the challenges of GATT underline the importance to us of the way in which the Community is developing. Our commitment is not in doubt. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her Bruges speech:our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community.One cannot have a firmer commitment than that.
At the end of a year of achievements, we can face with confidence the challenges that the Europe of 1992 will bring. In 1988 we have secured common-sense budgetary reforms and the acceleration of the drive towards the single market. Both developments have been welcomed by the majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House.
Looking ahead, I see the steady development of a stronger enterprise Europe with less regulation and less interference with markets and, as a result, more growth and more jobs. I see the steady development of a Community, the growing economic influence of which is reflected in greater political influence across the world with the United Kingdom playing a prominent part.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe for drawing our attention to the Community's development, for inspiring an unusual and lively debate and for obtaining an optimistic view of the Opposition's policies in Europe from the hon. Member for Hamilton.