HC Deb 30 October 1989 vol 159 cc65-82
Mr. Moynihan

I beg to move amendment No. 6, in page 3, line 47, after 'section', insert '(a)'.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

With this, it will be convenient to consider Government amendments Nos. 7 and 8.

Mr. Moynihan

The amendments require the Footbal Membership Authority to consult interested parties in drawing up or modifying the national membership scheme.

Amendment No. 6 requires the FMA to consult the Football Association of Wales and fulfils an undertaking I gave in Committee to the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is, with the assistance of a working party of interested parties set up for the purpose, looking at the matches in Wales to which the scheme should apply. It is important that the Football Association of Wales should have the opportunity of making an input as the scheme is drawn up or in the event of its being modified. I am happy, by way of this amendment, to ensure that the association is given this opportunity.

The third amendment concerns the important matter of safeguarding the interests of football supporters. The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) moved an amendment in Committee to add the Football Supporters Association and the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs to the bodies that the FMA must consult under clause 4(2). I explained in Committee that the Government are sympathetic to the notion of involving the football supporters' organisations and I said that I would consider how best to achieve it.

As I have explained fully to the House, it remains my view that it would not be helpful to refer to the existing supporters' organisations by name in the Bill, not least because there could be difficulties if they should cease to exist, or if a new organisation should be formed. The amendment therefore provides for the FMA to consult supporters' organisations. Those organisations would then have the opportunity of making representations on the detailed scheme as it is drawn up or on any changes made to it. I commend this approach to the House.

The Football Membership Authority's working party on the scheme is already consulting the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs and the Football Supporters Association. However, I regret that the chairman of the FSA may not take the positive approach to the scheme that I had hoped for. Nevertheless, it is important that the FMA should consult supporters. The Government are fully committed to involving football supporters in drawing up the scheme. They must be involved and given the chance to have their say. The amendment will bring that about.

6.30 pm
Mr. Rowlands

I thank the Minister for responding to our call in Committee to ensure that the Football Association for Wales will be properly and statutorily recognised in the consultation process. As the Minister will acknowledge, we made strenuous efforts to exclude Wales from the Bill but, having failed to do so, it is right and proper that the Football Association of Wales should have a proper statutory role in the consultation process. I hope that the Football Association of Wales will seek to strengthen and develop its links with football and football supporters in Wales.

The association had the image of an aged establishment that was not capable of responding and relating to the widespread and growing support for football—both league and non-league—in Wales. Having been given that function and role, I hope that, in future, the Football Association of Wales will start to reflect the energy, excitement, support and commitment of a large number of people. Although rugby is our national sport, football has great support in the Principality. I welcome the opportunity that the Minister has provided for the Football Association of Wales to take part in the vital consultation process.

Mr. Tony Banks

The Minister kept saying that the Government were determined that supporters should be consulted. However, what matters is not what the Minister says at the Dispatch Box but what is written in the Bill. If the Bill is amended as the Minister expects it to be, it will provide for consultation with the Football Association and the Football League, but football supporters will have only an "opportunity to make representations." Anyone has the opportunity to make representations to the FMA. The Minister should find some other way of ensuring that football supporters have a statutory right to be consulted, rather than the wishy-washy permissive approach that he is enshrining within the Bill.

Mr. Moynihan

Under the Bill, the FMA, in preparing a draft scheme that fulfils the requirements of clause 5, will have to give such persons as appear to it to represent the interests of football supporters an opportunity to make representations. That is a strong commitment. I have no doubt that, if lively and active football supporters' associations were not given the opportunity to represent the interests of the bodies that they form, they would act swiftly to seek judicial review.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 7, in page 3, line 47, after 'Association', insert ',the Football Association of Wales'

No. 8, in page 3, line 48, at end insert '; and

  1. (b) give such persons as appear to it to represent the interests of football supporters an opportunity to make representations.'.—[Mr. Moynihan.]

Mr. Jim Lester

I beg to move amendment No. 56, in page 4, line 10, at end insert 'Provided that the Secretary of State and the Football Membership Authority are satisfied that any equipment to be used for the operation of the scheme has been thoroughly tested for a sufficient period of time as to allow such testing to take place during the winter months.' The amendment is tabled in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway). It spells out clearly the test of the Government's good faith. All along we have given credibility to the Government's promise that they would not implement any scheme unless they were satisfied that it was technically sound.

We need to insert the amendment because we all recognise that the technology needs to be tested in a full profile of the football season. It will not be enough for it to be tested for a brief period during a certain time of the year, because in football things happen at odd times. For example, cup matches are played late in the season and a first division club could play a "giant-killing" non-league club. Nobody can predict when such matches will occur. We need to cover occasions such as Boxing day. Many people go home to spend Christmas with their families and it is popular to go to a football match. Throughout the country such matches attract many casual supporters and the system needs to be tested to ensure that it causes no problems.

Those of us who are familiar with technical equipment know that the equipment will be used only at weekends and not necessarily every weekend. We need to be sure that it does not respond to adverse temperatures and condensation. I am sure that if he were here my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) would agree that the Luton scheme, with which the House has been bored on more than one occasion, has sometims failed because of condensation. We need to ensure that the technical equipment functions in all weather conditions.

Perhaps the most important point to put to the Minister is that we must test the criteria by which the machinery operates. After Hillsborough, is the criterion to ensure that the maximum number of people gain entry into the ground with the least possible trouble?

That is the crowd safety argument mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale in a previous debate. Are we testing the ability to exclude people? One of my principal criticisms is that we may be putting up to half a million people through machinery every weekend in an attempt to try to exclude any one of the 1,839 who have been excluded from matches since 1987.

The police are concerned to know what rights they have to arrest anybody who has gone through the equipment and whether the flashing red light is sufficient evidence to arrest or keep people outside the ground. That is an argument that we have had many times. It is not a popular argument, because keeping people outside creates tremendous pressure outside the grounds. Is it the intention that people should be let in and subsequently be taken away quietly to some other place within the club precincts to be questioned to find out whether the machine has made an error?

Some hon. Members have referred to the errors made by computer-type machinery. When I was at a football match this weekend I looked to see whether the flashing light referred to the right person. When a light flashes at a turnstile there are many people around, and we have to ensure that the card applies to the right person.

Mr. Pike

Is it not possible that all the turnstiles in that row—they are always in blocks—will flash red at the same time? Is that not one of the difficulties that will be shown up if the Bill is forced through Parliament and a reason why it is important that the equipment should be tested in the way suggested by the hon. Gentleman?

Mr. Lestor

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point. Most members of the Committee who oppose the Bill, on grounds both of practicality and of principle, feel that great store must be placed on the Minister's pledge not to implement the scheme unless he is totally satisfied that it is the correct one. There must be exhaustive testing.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am vice-chairman of Hartlepool United football club. The other day, I had the pleasure of welcoming the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) to the club——

Mr. Ashton

Who won?

Mr. Boyes

York City won.

This is a good amendment. If the equipment kept breaking down in winter, it would cost money to repair it. We have just spent nine hours at Hartlepool discussing our financial problems—that is on the record in the newspapers. The Minister says that we shall have to contribute towards the cost of installing the equipment. During the winter months, the equipment may continually break down and we may have to fetch in electronic engineers and computer experts, at great expense. I am sure that I speak on behalf of dozens of football clubs when I say that the cost of repairing the equipment will be a great drain on our resources.

Mr. Lester

That is a point of finance, but the point that the hon. Gentleman makes from his detailed knowledge of the game is valid. From 5 May, in the run-up to the World cup, there will not be many opportunities to test these machines. My hon. Friend the Minister should tell us how he thinks testing can take place and, on the point made by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), how it can be financed and who will finance it.

I am sure that there will be no great rush of volunteers among the clubs to be the test men.

Mr. Randall

I have a reservation about this. Rather than my making a long speech about it, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can comment on it. The amendment places great emphasis on equipment. If we are to test the scheme, should we not test the whole system, not just the hardware and the software? After all, pages 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Bill are about the licence. Should not the amendment, therefore, be just a little wider?

Mr. Lester

I suspect that licensing would go on regardless of the equipment and the testing of the scheme. The criteria hinge on the type of system and equipment, which must be tested exhaustively before the authorities can even proceed to issue licences. I cannot imagine any clubs rushing to volunteer to be test men and putting their supporters through the business of taking out cards, or using whatever system is recommended, to find out whether the system works. I have heard that it will cost £2.5 million to carry out testing, before we get anywhere near the major scheme. It will be interesting to know who is supposed to provide the £2.5 million to the volunteer clubs—which I suspect will be unwilling to take part—to see whether the equipment works. These questions and the amendment deserve careful consideration.

Mr. John Carlisle

Can my hon. Friend tell the House what definite information he has on the cost, if indeed there will be a cost? Might not the scheme be implemented by some companies at no cost to the clubs due to the commercial opportunities which might spin off from it, and would my hon. Friend welcome that?

6.45 pm
Mr. Lester

I would welcome anything which imposed no financial cost on clubs, many of which are already struggling to make ends meet, but I suspect that my hon. Friend would be as amazed as I if any fairy godmothers were found waiting in the wings to come forward with free schemes. Whatever the criteria to be included in the Bill, we must be sure that the equipment and the scheme are workable.

The onus must be on the Government, who are proposing this legislation, to ensure that it will work. I cannot see how all the testing can be done before the 1991 season, as the Arthur Young report stated. The onus on the Government is heavy because they proposed the legislation against the better judgment of 91 of the 92 clubs, the 430,000 regular football supporters and the totality of football players, as we have heard today. The Government must be sure that they are right and that their scheme will work, against the overwhelming evidence of all those who are closely involved in the game and who would be the first to rush to the Government if they were as afraid of the problems of hooliganism as some Conservative Members have suggested they are.

I am happy that this is the fourth year in which attendances at football matches have increased. At the weekend, I had a good look around to see how many ladies and children were in the audience at the match between Nottingham Forest and Queen's Park Rangers. I am happy to say that a high proportion of women and children were present on that happy and enjoyable family occasion. They came to a good match and enjoyed the whole game.

Mr. John Carlisle

Including those on the terraces?

Mr. Lester

Yes, those on the terraces as well.

Mr. Menzies Campbell

I support the amendment. Many of us who are most strongly opposed to the Bill oppose it as a matter of principle. Throughout its passage, there have undoubtedly been a considerable number of occasions when the practicalities of the measure have seemed as important to those of us who oppose it as a matter of principle as the principle itself. If the scheme is to be approved, it must work in all circumstances and have the capacity to deal with the improbables and, indeed, the very emergency which we discussed earlier. For that reason, I believe that the amendment is clothed in common sense. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept it.

Implicit in the amendment is the suggestion that one is necessarily dealing with electronic equipment. I know that at least one of the six proposals that are still before the Minister for consideration does not necessarily involve electronic equipment. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to offer any announcement this evening, but the House wants to be assured that the most careful consideration will be given to all the options so that the option that is finally chosen is regarded as the best possible means by which the scheme should be operated and is subjected to the most rigorous testing. In a sense, if the means by which the scheme is to be made to work at football grounds on Saturday afternoons are wrongly chosen or in any way defective, the apprehensions of many of us—that the difficulties outside football grounds may be compounded rather than alleviated—may turn out to be well founded.

The Government have chosen to embark upon this scheme. It is incumbent on them to satisfy themselves by the most rigorous and compelling evidence that it will stand up to all the strains and stresses to which it will necessarily be subjected.

Mr. John Greenway

I want to deal only with matters that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) did not mention. Even though some of us oppose the Bill, as I mentioned earlier, it is vital that if we are to have a scheme, it should be seen to work. The confidence of the supporters that the scheme will work is crucial. At some stage, we shall have to stop talking down the Bill and ensure that fans are not put off coming to football matches because of their concern that dreadful events may happen at games.

The equipment that may be used in introducing the scheme lies at the heart of that concern, not only because the fans are worried about safety, but because they are worried about whether they will be admitted to matches to which they are entitled to be admitted and whether there may be some malfunction of the equipment, which may misread their cards.

My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe is right to include the words "winter months" in the amendment. About three seasons ago, York City football club played Arsenal and Liverpool in FA cup matches, one in the fourth round and the other in the fifth. Both matches were played on Saturdays in February and the fans had to clear about a foot of snow off the pitch and terraces so that the game could go ahead. The television cameramen were also keen to help us to ensure that the games went ahead, and both matches were played in sub-zero temperatures. It is important that the electronic equipment used is shown to be capable of working in such conditions.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe said, FA cup games throw up unusual fixtures and they are usually played in the winter months. It is important that the equipment is seen to work and to be capable of dealing not only with winter fixtures, but with large crowds at some of the smaller grounds, which are used to seeing only 3,000 or 4,000 spectators on Saturdays—and sometimes, sadly, even fewer—and which suddenly have to deal with 15,000 or 20,000 spectators, if they are some of the bigger stadiums in the third and fourth divisions.

The hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) made a point about the cost of repairs. He tried to suggest that if the test is carried out for too long, we could be throwing a considerable amount of money at testing and dealing with breakdowns. The finances of most third and fourth division clubs will not allow for a massive influx of money to make the equipment repairs to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

Mr. David Evans

At Luton, we introduced a computerised system and the cost of testing was zero. It took no time to test. It was tested completely within one day and, over the past three and a half years, the antiquated system has not failed us. I suggest that, with the modern equipment available, the point about the time for testing is just a red herring from the Opposition.

Mr. Greenway

One of the difficulties of having a test carried out at only a few clubs—several hon. Members have referred to the Government's intentions on this—is that we shall be dealing only with small numbers. When the scheme is in force in all 92 clubs, 450,000 to 500,000 people could be going through the turnstiles on the same day and they will all be using the same national membership scheme database.

Mr. Lester

If I remember correctly from our discussion in Committee, it will be a Europewide scheme, not a scheme only for the United Kingdom. That is a rather different matter from 8,000 regular attenders at Luton.

Mr. Greenway

We seem to be digressing from the point raised by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington. He said that it was surely right that the equipment should be seen to work before all 92 clubs had to put their hands in—for many of them—fairly empty pockets to pay for the equipment in the first place.

There is an argument about whether it will cost small clubs any money to institute the scheme. I remain to be convinced, as do the chairmen of the majority of Football League clubs, that the scheme could be introduced at no cost to them. I assume that there will be a cost and we require a proper period of testing to ensure that there is no waste of money. If we do not have a proper testing period and then find that the scheme does not work, much of the money will be wasted, and in many of our league grounds, that money could more reasonably be spent on new seating and facilities for supporters. If the scheme fails because it has not been tested adequately, there will be not only the serious cost to the football clubs that have paid money for the equipment to be installed: the political cost to the Government of failure will be extremely serious. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to reflect on that.

The amendment is not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans) suggested, born out of an attempt to filibuster the introduction of the scheme. It is not a wrecking amendment, but is born out of the desire of those of us who oppose the Bill, but who none the less see the political reality that there will be a scheme, to make the scheme work. Unless the fans have full confidence that the scheme will work, there could be serious political consequences.

Mr. Boyes

I accept the hon. Gentleman's last point. Will he accept that we on the Hartlepool board want to stay within the law? We may not like it, but we would accept the Bill when it became law. However, to say that we accept the law does not mean that we can implement it; we do not have the cash to do so. The Minister has said that there will be zero cost, but during the passage of the Bill, I have not heard the Minister say definitely that Hartlepool United, York City or any other club will be given money for the equipment, the repairs and the buildings necessary for the equipment. The Government have never told the House that there will be a grant or any other help towards that.

Mr. Greenway

I am delighted that I gave way to the hon. Gentleman because he has made a valid point, which requires no further comment from me.

The political cost of the failure of the scheme would be damaging for the Government, and I say that in sincerity and good faith. In Committee—I am sorry that I was unable to serve on that Committee—the Government gave undertakings that the scheme would be introduced on a national scale only when it could be shown to work and the technology was available. The amendment is the litmus test of that commitment.

Mr. Norris

Although the amendment may be technically unnecessary, it raises an important issue of practicability. However, we shall vote against it if necessary, although I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) will not press the amendment. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), speaking for the SLD—I do not want to get the name wrong—made an important distinction. He said that the Bill raises two issues, one of principle and the other of practicability and he is right to draw that distinction. I am concerned about the principle, and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) emphasised that in this forum we should be debating the principle.

I make that point because I believe that the practicability can be taken for granted. I do not want to be trite and wax on, although that would be breaking the habit of a lifetime, and talk about the impact of new technology. However, in an age such as this, it is surely not beyond the wit of man to devise a perfectly straightforward system to admit people to a ground, and to do so throughout normal temperature conditions and in all the normal circumstances at football grounds. Those of us who have been the most vigorous supporters of the Government's proposals, and who remain so convinced, take it for granted that the scheme that is introduced will be sensible and will have undergone all the normal, rigorous tests that should be applied to such a scheme. It must be a matter of common accord that, when the scheme is introduced, the last thing we want is for it to break down and to cause more problems than it is designed to prevent.

It is an extraordinary proposition that we should allow our attempt to control the problems of violence in football —which is the whole aim of the Bill, as I keep saying—to be frustrated because of our inability to produce cards that swipe properly in sub-zero temperatures. I have much more faith in our abilities, and the considerable number of companies that have shown an interest in providing the technology leads me to believe that we can find a solution and a technology that work.

7 pm

Mr. Harry Barnes

The Minister told us in Committee that the cards would operate nationally. That means that someone can go in the morning to a post office or to the shed at Halifax to get himself a card. He then has access to any league match in the country. He can nip down and watch a game at Arsenal. The technology must be such that, with about 300,000 people coming in in the last 15 minutes before the game, telephone connections with a national computer can be used to check the membership cards. If such technology existed, the scheme might work, but I do not think that even the Minister believes that it exists.

On Friday when we discussed the ways and means resolution, the Minister said what he will presumably say in his answer to this debate: if the Government went ahead with a national membership scheme, we should need to be satisfied that the technology was up and working and correct so that the scheme could be implemented effectively from day 1."—[Official Report, 27 October 1989; Vol. 158, c. 1267.] It seems to me that we shall not get a practicable scheme. The principle will be established and then the Government will back off from their commitments regarding the practicalities.

Mr. Lester


Mr. Norris

Technically, I should at least get back to my feet before giving way to my hon. Friend who so earnestly wishes to intervene.

Let me respond to the argument advanced by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes), who has wrongly described the technical qualifications of the scheme. I look forward to my hon. Friend the Minister confirming what the essential elements will be. It is a sine qua non of the scheme that the card should be transferable from ground to ground and that it should be acceptable at all the league grounds to which the scheme applies. I see nothing particularly technically difficult about that. I understand that a large number of companies have tendered for the contract to provide the technical equipment, and I look forward to the successful tenderers producing a perfectly serviceable product.

It is important to make two points about cost. There are two elements: one is the capital cost of installing the equipment and the second is the day-to-day cost of producing the cards. I understand that the half-dozen or so serious contenders for the contract—I am not sure of the exact number—have said that the facility, or the capital works, will be provided at no cost to the club. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale ( Mr. Greenway) and the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes), who represent the heartfelt interests of smaller and less wealthy clubs, may have missed this point when reading the reports of our proceedings in Committee. My hon. Friends and I well understand that the last thing that a club whose finances are in a parlous condition wants is a large capital imposition resulting from this scheme. But I understand that that will simply not be the case and that all the tenderers will deliver on the basis that there is no capital cost to the clubs involved.

That is not, however, the whole story. The second element of cost is what one might call the revenue cost —the cost of providing cards to individual spectators. Apparently, the maximum cost of producing the cards will be about £9.90 for three seasons—a gross cost of £3.30 per season. It is important to stress that that is the gross cost. Suppose that there are 20 home matches per season; £3.30 divided by 20 is hardly a great impost on spectators.

Moreover, many companies have recognised the advantages of using the card as a means of marketing their products and services in co-operation with football clubs, and no doubt the clubs represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale and by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington would be just as interested in sponsorship opportunities as some of their larger brethren. Such sponsorships can reduce the cost to below the £3.30 per season figure, and it is to be hoped that in many cases the cost will be virtually nil.

Those who say that the scheme will be impracticable —as if it were impossible to devise a card to be swiped through a perfectly straightforward piece of equipment such as is to be found on every third door in our high streets—are unnecessarily pessimistic.

The capital costs will simply not have to be borne by the clubs, and the revenue cost—a maximum of £3.30 per season for all the club's games and for games at any other ground—could be reduced to virtually nil. We have nothing to fear from the technology. I emphasise what. I said at the beginning. Those of us who have most loyally supported my hon. Friend the Minister throughout the proceedings on the Bill take it for granted that the technology will be thoroughly tested in the circumstances that have been described, somewhat poetically, by my hon. Friends, before the scheme is implemented.

Mr. Lester

Surely the desire to test the technology has arisen because of what happened at Hillsborough. We are waiting for Lord Justice Taylor's report because we want to be satisfied—in spite of my hon. Friend's faith in our developing a technology which has never been developed before—that the technology will not give rise to further disasters. I do not share my hon. Friend's complacency and I remain convinced that we need to test the equipment, for all the reasons that we have advanced.

Mr. Norris

I merely register the fact that I do not share my hon. Friend's view. I see no reason why the technology should not help us considerably in our attempts to prevent the kind of scenes that we saw at Hillsborough recurring. It is the object of every one of us who supports the scheme to provide not only the equipment but the legislative framework to avoid incidents such as that at Hillsborough.

Mr. Moynihan

The Government have always accepted that the technology to be used in the national membership scheme should be properly tested before the scheme can begin. When we discussed the subject in Committee, I said: testing the technology for the scheme would be part of the preparations for implementation."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 20 July 1989, c. 503.] I also repeated, as I have done many times, that we shall not go ahead with implementation until we are satisfied that the technology is workable, efficient and safe. It is no more in the interests of the Government than in the interests of anyone else for to scheme to be set up before those conditions are satisfied.

I listened with interest to the speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Norris) and the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell). We are talking about technologies that have not yet been chosen and which are very different from each other. If the membership authority chooses a technology that does not require large capital investment in machinery, the testing period will be very different from that for an alternative technology that the authority may recommend. My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest spoke of a different technology. His point does not reflect the need to go down the line to check whether each card carried by 600,000 members is valid. On the contrary —some hon. Members have seen technologies allowing the club access, on the day before or the morning of the match, to a referral file of invalid cards.

As soon as that file arrives at the club, the readers, which are regularly updated with the referral files, are taken to the turnstiles and can be placed on them. As a scheme member enters, the reader shows whether his card is valid or invalid. That is not dissimilar from the operation at Luton Town or at Derby County. Those clubs have few difficulties with invalid or faulty cards. Oxford United and Reading have similar systems. If a member's card causes a red light to go on at the turnstiles at Reading because he is on the referral file, he is not allowed in. That fan must go to the club office, where an inquiry is made. The FMA believes that it is better to allow people in to avoid turning someone round in a turnstile. If people are allowed in, it is better for stewards to handle them inside grounds. That is what happens at Oxford United.

At Tottenham Hotspur similar technology with a referral file permits a supervisor in addition to the gate man to respond to a red light. If the red light comes on, a code number is indicated to the supervisor, thus giving him the reason for the red light. The way in which clubs deal with such situations depends on what is happening outside the turnstile.

The appropriate technology requires appropriate testing. As Luton Town and other clubs have found, that testing can be carried out on one or two Saturdays. The scheme is not relevant to this debate. We are considering the technology that must be tested. That testing may take place on two consecutive Saturdays next year, after the FMA has considered whether it wants two or three systems to be tested. The FMA might hypothetically decide on a short list of three and then to go to Luton Town. It may remove the equipment from three turnstiles to test the technology alongside the present system in Luton. Luton Town may assist that, and that may require testing lasting one week, two weeks or three months. When we consider the six short-listed systems, I believe the testing can be carried out efficiently and speedily. We will not be satisfied with the relevant technology until that testing has been carried out. The Government will not approve the system until we are satisfied that the technology is workable, efficient and safe.

It is utter nonsense for the Evening Standard to suggest today that Mr. Moynihan was instead telling the Commons this afternoon that there will now be a trial scheme involving one club from each of the four divisions. On occasions, we have problems in the House with hon. Members unwittingly misleading the House. To mislead the public so clearly is completely wrong. It is not right that there must be a delay in the implementation of the scheme from the early months of next season for adequate testing of the technology to take place. It is clear that more than 90 clubs around the country have membership schemes at the moment which they have implemented with adequate testing without the need to wait for three seasons of testing, as the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and his colleagues would like.

Mr. Pendry

My right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) has said that the Football League and the Football Association are considering the tenders from the computer firms and have a short list of six. If at the end of the day they find that not one of the six is adequate, what will the Minister do?

Mr. Moynihan

The whole purpose of an invitation to tender is to allow the companies which are aware of the tender documentation and of the nature of the scheme to bid against one another. No doubt they will want to learn the areas in which the working group is dissatisfied with the particular schemes that have been proposed and no doubt the companies will place a cost on remedying that. The FMA will have to bear that cost.

It is clear that six companies have been shortlisted from more than 100. The experts in the FA and the Football League are considering in detail the implementation of a comprehensive national scheme at no cost to the clubs. It is clear that there will be no cost and perhaps even income generation to the clubs through the charge on their members or through commercial opportunities with local companies.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest said, the maximum cost last summer with the highest level of technology then available was £3.30 per annum per member, with no cost to the club. The cost does not take into account the development of any commercial opportunities.

7.15 pm

There are 90 membership schemes in the Football League at the moment. All those clubs have considered commercial opportunities, and some have been highly successful. If the clubs have, as we anticipate, the right to develop commercial relations with the companies that already sponsor their membership schemes, even if they do nothing, the maximum cost estimated last season was £3.30 a head. However, if they maximise the range of commercial opportunities, as clubs up and down the country have done already with their partial membership schemes, there would not be a cost, and those clubs may have an income generator. If the right hon. Member for Small Heath believes that those clubs should not take those opportunities, he is denying them the right to earn money to invest in facilities, get better players, create closer relations with their members and break once and for all the link between football hooligans and true football supporters.

Mr. Boyes

I had thought that the Minister would have learned from his experiences in Hartlepool. I invited him there and he will remember that the buildings at the club are wooden structures. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) has referred to security. I do not believe that we will get everything for free. However, where will the money come from to make the buildings secure? The Minister is living in cloud cuckoo land if he believes that builders in Hartlepool will do all that work for nothing.

Mr. Moynihan

The hon. Gentleman has made two very important points. I hoped that I had answered to the satisfaction of the House his point on the cost and potential income generation of the national membership scheme. However, the hon. Gentleman has raised another very important point—the financing of improvements to grounds which may arise as a result of the Football Licensing Authority's interest in updating facilities to ensure that they are safe.

Like all other forms of entertainment in this country, whether at a cinema, the Albert hall or any sporting ground, football clubs as private sector businesses must find the costs to ensure that their facilities are safe. There is no difference between a licence condition imposed on a cinema and that imposed on a football club. That must be right. If a football club, cinema or any other place of entertainment or business involved in the leisure industry cannot afford to make its premises safe, it should not be open to the public for any purpose. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Ashton) may boo and hiss from a sedentary position. However, it is common ground, at least among Conservative Members, that safety must come first. If premises are unsafe, I hope that the hon. Member for Bassetlaw would agree that they should not be open to the paying public.

Mr. John Carlisle


Mr. Meale

Surely the Minister is misguided in trying to pursue this line of argument about safety. The membership card will not ensure safety. If £50,000 or £100,000 is required to house the machinery to operate the system, that will affect the number of players and coaches for clubs like Mansfield in my constituency. Such a sum might buy twice as many players and coaches for Hartlepool in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Wahington (Mr. Boyes). Hartlepool is currently 92nd in the league and it may go out of the Football League at the end of the season. How will the Minister encourage Hartlepool to invest the level of expenditure required to house the machines to operate the system? The membership cards have nothing to do with safety.

Mr. Moynihan

I will answer the hon. Gentleman's question and then I will happily give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle).

Mr. Ashton

Do not give way.

Mr. Moynihan

I have almost exclusively given way to the Opposition. Some of my hon. Friends would like to intervene in the debate.

Safety is at the heart of the Bill and the Football Licensing Authority's work. I would happily give the hon. Gentleman a copy of the Bill to show how vital it is. All hon. Members recognise the need for the Football Licensing Authority, in the light of the appalling footballing disasters that have taken place in recent years, and the necessity to make sure that we have safe facilities. That will be a primary function of the Football Licensing Authority, which is absolutely central to the legislation.

The hon. Gentleman may try not to compare coaches, players and the costs of football with the cost of safety, but he cannot avoid the fact that a company, management structure, or football club should regard all those factors as important aspects of their expenditure and put safety at the very top. A club would let down the interests of fee-paying spectators if it failed to put safety anywhere bar at the top and to pay for required improvements, just as a cinema must pay for improvements to meet fire and safety regulations.

Mr. John Carlisle

Does my hon. Friend recall that, in Committee, it was said several times that facilities could be given in the form of financial help from the Football Trust, which already gives millions of pounds for football ground improvement and safety each year? Does my hon. Friend agree that a case for a grant could easily be made by a club such as the one mentioned by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes)? In such circumstances, if a club improved its ground—obviously, it would—its application might be looked upon favourably.

Mr. Moynihan

My hon. Friend's point is well made, and I am sure that it will be considered by the hon. Member for Houghton and Washington (Mr. Boyes) As I have said several times, the Football Trust has done outstandingly good work in assisting with clubs' significant costs in safety improvements. The rest of the costs must be met from football.

Mr. David Evans

Is my hon. Friend aware that Luton Town football club's revenue has doubled in the past year because of the 32 companies that sponsor its membership card? Is he aware also that, only last week, the Luton bus corporation allowed anyone with a Luton Town member's card to travel at half price on any Saturday during the year?

Mr. Moynihan

Luton Town is exemplary in seeking out and developing the commercial opportunities that can be associated with its membership scheme, which is important but not exclusive to Luton town. Many clubs have followed that example. Luton Town is unique in that, having a 100 per cent. home-only scheme, it has managed to increase support from local people well beyond what it was before, to 20,000 members, and to close its books to further membership at present. It has increased income from commercial sponsors and substantially reduced the incidence of hooliganism. As the Bedfordshire police have made clear, hooliganism has not been displaced downtown. That has led to the community being a far safer place than it was three years ago.

Mr. Lester

I listened to the argument about choosing a scheme, but my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and I want an assurance that, if a club chooses a scheme which involves some equipment, that equipment will be thoroughly tested in the winter. I do not know how one could simulate winter conditions in summer or spring. I experienced technological failure when equipment at Heathrow failed in deep frost and none of us could get off an aeroplane—they had to bring ladders to us. I do not share the confidence of some of my hon. Friends that this equipment will work perfectly in the depths of winter because it worked perfectly well in the spring. If a club chooses equipment which would react to weather conditions, will my hon. Friend assure the House that it will not be put into play until it has been tested in those conditions?

Mr. Moynihan

Of course I agree with the proposition that the technology will need to be tested on dark and wet evenings as well as sunny Saturday afternoons. I do not believe that that necessarily requires the testing to continue throughout what may be described as the winter, still less that it needs to be tested throughout a whole season. If the purpose is to make sure that it is tested in cold and wet conditions, I do not think that my hon. Friend needs to wait a winter for that—many an autumn and spring fall neatly into that category. I give the undertaking that I have given on many occasions to my hon. Friend and other colleagues that testing will need to take place in different conditions and different locations.

However, once the FMA is satisfied that the appropriate technology is up and running, there is no doubt that having chosen it, all 92 clubs will have the opportunity to put it in place, and test it as they wish in the run-up before it goes live with the force of law. That is an important point to bear in mind. It will also reflect any change in turnstile arrangements that must be made in the off-season next summer, or any other recommendations on ground design made by the FMA or Lord Justice Taylor in his report—subject to the agreement of Parliament—prior to the beginning of next season, or possibly even sooner.

Testing the technology is not the same thing as phasing the implementation of the scheme. The Government and the FMA will have regard to the desirability of a phased application of the scheme as we are required to do by clause 6. However, we very much hope that phasing will not be necessary because of the serious risk that hooligans banned from clubs inside the scheme would simply transfer their attention to clubs outside. A hooligan convicted of an offence at one Football League club would be free to attend matches at another. That could have particularly serious implications if clubs outside the scheme could not be brought in for a period such as three years.

It will be for the Football Membership Authority to come up with a realistic programme for testing the technology for its scheme. I do not think that it is helpful now to try to reach definitive conclusions about what that timetable should be. Hon. Members have spoken about the variety of technology. The House will accept that it is wrong to be too definite about an actual testing programme and that it would not fulfil the objective that an appropriate test would need to be made. That might be a short testing period, and it might require a longer testing period. It is for the Football Membership Authority to come forward with a realistic programme in the light of the appropiate technologies it wishes to have tested.

It would not be helpful to accept the amendment about specific requirements for thorough testing for certain periods. Such a provision would also create a minefield of legal dispute. Would "thorough" mean testing at every club and in all possible weather conditions, or something less? There is a danger that an amendment of this kind could give rise to endless unhelpful and expensive disputes involving the FMA, the Secretary of State and individual clubs. That would be in no one's interests.

I recognise that my hon. Friends and other hon. Members wish to be certain that the technology will be tested properly, but I hope that they will accept that the FMA has the greatest possible incentive to ensure that the technology will work properly before the scheme begins. After all, it will have responsibility for its operation. The Government want the scheme to be tested before it is introduced. The FMA will want it to be tested. It is in both our interests that it should be tested. We do not need to amend the Bill in a way that could give rise to any number of arguments about interpretation, to ensure that the adequate testing that my hon. Friends wish to achieve will be carried out. Therefore, I invite my hon. Friends to reject the amendment.

Mr. Denis Howell

The Minister's speech was one of the most spurious that I have heard on the Bill. When we started on this Bill, which is running into more and more trouble, the Minister said that the scheme would be in operation this season, and probably last season. We do not have it this year and we will not have it next year—at any rate, not at the start of next season—and I honestly do not think that we will have it until 1991. The Minister tried to destroy a sensible amendment. He spoke as though the process would be held up by 92 clubs, whereas the amendment could not have been more reasonably drafted even by myself. It says that the Secretary of State and the Football Membership Authority—nobody else—have to be satisfied about the technology. The Minister is now turning down that sensible proposition.

What does the Minister base his argument on? We heard a lot of nonsense about how important it is that football clubs should accept the need for safety. What on earth does he think that the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 is all about? The Minister tried to make a party point at the expense of the Opposition. He knows that I was the Minister in the Labour Government who placed the Safety of Sports Grounds Act on the statute book. Lord Justice Taylor is considering whether the implementation of that Act at Hillsborough and Sheffield council's supervision of that ground were adequate. We wait to hear what Lord Justice Taylor has to say about that. There is a legal obligation on all football clubs to put safety first, and local authorities are obliged to seek to ensure that they do.

7.30 pm

The Government are not providing a penny for this scheme, but the Labour Government who placed the Safety of Sports Grounds Act on the statute book arranged that the pools promoters, "Spot the Ball" and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would provide money to finance the scheme. It has been a godsend to football.

The Minister referred to marketing opportunities. What he is saying is that football supporters should agree to having masses of junk mail pushed through their letter boxes every day of the year. He knows perfectly well that the Data Protection Act 1988 provides that on each application form there is to be a square where each member can put a cross, which will mean that he does not want his name and address to be spelt out. Those of us who were members of the Committee that considered the Data Protection Bill were anxious to protect people's privacy.

The National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs has a membership of 100,000. The Football Supporters Association has 10,000 paid-up members who can vote and 20,000 associates who do not have a vote. We were not talking earlier about trivial numbers. The Football Supporters Association, the National Federation of Football Supporters Clubs, all sensible people who are interested in football, most of the members of the press who are interested in civil liberties and certainly the Opposition will advise every member who applies to join to put an "x" in that square so that they are not flooded with calls from secondhand car salesmen, double glazing window merchants and all the other messengers of doom and gloom who call at our houses if our names and addresses are sold to raise money.

If football supporters exercise their civil rights by saying, "I do not want this junk mail pushed through my letter box and people calling at my home to sell me bogus insurance and other things, so I do not wish my name to be disclosed"—and if they have any sense they will do that —there is no way in which the scheme can be introduced at a cost of £10 for three years.

Mr. John Carlisle

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howell

No, I do not intend to give way. We have had enough talk of Luton Town today. The hon. Gentleman will have to be quiet. Luton Town, I am sorry to say, is relegated to the second division for the purposes of this debate.

For old-age pensioners, £10 is a lot of money. An old-age pensioner may only go to a football match at Christmas. Pensioners can least afford £10, even though it is for three years. [Interruption.] I know how much a week that is, but the £10 is not paid weekly. It is paid in one go, and that is on top of the entrance fee. For an old-age pensioner who goes to a football match only at Christmas, it will not be £10; it will be £15, which is quite a lot of money.

I never thought that I would hear the Minister say that there should be a supervisor at each turnstile. He commended Tottenham. Most football clubs cannot afford to have supervisors at turnstiles.

Mr. Moynihan

The right hon. Gentleman could not have been listening. I gave a range of examples of how different clubs handle their partial membership schemes. They vary considerably. I never said that all were the kind of schemes that we wanted—or even that any one of them was. None of them is, because we are going for a national, not a partial, membership scheme.

Mr. Howell

I am glad that the Minister said that; he has clarified the fact that this is a Government scheme. It is the Government, not the Football Membership Authority, who will decide.

Mr. Moynihan

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. The Bill provides the framework for a national membership scheme, which the Government wish to see. The precise details of the scheme will be brought before the House by the Secretary of State after it has been finalised by the Football Membership Authority.

Mr. Howell

I hear what the Minister says, but I do not have time to go into all the points.

One of the impracticalities of the scheme is that anyone who has registered can attend any ground in the country. Therefore, supporters of 91 clubs could turn up at Hartlepool United or, more likely, at Tottenham or Arsenal. How on earth will that club know where to put the supporters of those 91 clubs when it is playing, for instance, Manchester United? The "smart card" that the Minister spoke about earlier without naming it will say which part of the ground the supporters are to go to. That membership card, which will admit the football supporter into any of 92 clubs, will create horrendous difficulties for all the clubs concerned.

The hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) has made out an overwhelming case for trying out the scheme for half a season, or for a full season in any weather. I am sorry that the Minister has been unable to respond to his very reasonable case, which we support.

Mr. Lester

I am in a great dilemma, knowing that we want to get in some important debates before 9 pm and that a Division would take up time. I agree that, until we know what scheme the FMA comes forward with, we cannot recommend a test, but I leave my hon. Friend the Minister with a firm warning from those of us who watch these matters with great care that we shall need to be satisfied that any future scheme is thoroughly tested and safe.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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