HC Deb 25 January 1989 vol 145 cc1024-6
15. Mr. Andrew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he has any proposals to compensate Football League clubs experiencing financial difficulties following the introduction of the proposed identity card scheme.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Colin Moynihan)

No, Sir. With appropriate technology and proper marketing, the national membership scheme can provide an income stream, not a cost to football.

Mr. Smith

Will the Minister understand that his refusal to provide or offer assistance in the unfortunate event of his scheme coming into practice will be greeted with dismay by all who truly care for football in this country? Many clubs are struggling on the bread line—including some, like my club, Oxford United, which are higher up—so how does the Minister imagine that they will sustain the anticipated 20 per cent. loss in gates? Why does he not put back into football some of the £293 million that the Government take out in tax on ticket receipts and football pools?

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman would do well to listen to some of the companies with experience of partial memberships schemes. Such companies have come forward and said that the whole operation could be installed free of charge to clubs and supporters because of the substantial commercial opportunities that exist for the implementation of such a scheme.

Mr. Michael Brown

Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity of seeing the check-in scheme that has been sent to a number of us from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames)? The company, Check Technology, says that it is possible for it to do exactly what my hon. Friend's Bill is intended to do but much more cheaply. Could he discuss its ideas with the company?

Mr. Moynihan

I have received representations on behalf of that firm. I have looked carefully at the proposition. It would be for the Football Membership Authority to determine the technology that it wishes to use and I shall make sure that the company's representations are put before the FMA in due course.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

Why does the Minister persist in his support for the scheme in the teeth of opposition from the Police Federation? Why does he rely on bogus statistics which do not distinguish between those arrested inside and those arrested outside football grounds and, in particular, do not distinguish between the number of arrests and the number of convictions that follow?

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. and learned Member will be aware that the chief superintendents have written a supporting letter, that the Association of Chief Police Officers welcomed the scheme last summer and that the Police Federation, following a meeting with me, has recognised that a number of its concerns have been allayed and, quite rightly, wants to wait and see the details of the scheme that the football authorities will bring forward in order to assist in its implementation and make it as effective as possible.

Mr. Marlow

Would my hon. Friend confirm that this is enabling legislation which need not be enforced and that, if it is enforced, it need not be enforced on every single team in the Football League?

Mr. Moynihan

It is the Government's intention that this legislation, when passed. will enable the FMA to have a scheme in place at all league grounds on the same day.

Mr. Denis Howell

Will the Minister tell us what consultations he is having and what conclusions he has drawn from two deplorable difficulties, one this week at Manchester United's ground when 18,000 supporters had not been admitted to the ground at the time of kick-off and one last November at Highbury when 6,000 people could not get in at all? Has he consulted the chief officers of police and the club officials, all of whom say that if his membership scheme had been in operation it would have seriously aggravated an already difficult situation? Should not the Minister consult the people dealing with these problems on the ground when large numbers of spectators are arriving, and will he listen to the police officers concerning those cases rather than carry on with his scheme which is nothing more than a piece of crass stupidity?

Mr. Moynihan

The right hon. Member knows that I have looked into that incident. I can inform the House that the difficulties arose once the fans had entered the ground. I quote the secretary, Ken Merrett: The late arrival of many spectators, together with severe traffic congestion, caused the initial problems. The vast numbers who gained entry from 7 pm onwards caused gangways to become blocked. That has nothing whatever to do with the national membership scheme but rather with good management practice and effective stewarding.

Mr. Flannery

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I will take it after the statement.

Mr. Flannery

It has to do with Question Time, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker