HC Deb 08 May 1990 vol 172 cc21-7 3.30 pm
Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will make a statement on the violence and destruction which took place in Bournemouth on the occasion of last Saturday's football match between AFC Bournemouth and Leeds United.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Waddington)

Last Saturday a second division football match took place at Dean Court, Boscombe, between Bournemouth and Leeds United. I understand from the chief constable of Dorset, whom I have asked for a full report, that there was serious disorder in the town over the entire weekend, mainly involving Leeds supporters. To date, 104 arrests have been made and criminal damage totalling around £40,000 has been reported. Many police officers were hurt, and 12 received serious injuries.

The scenes of violent disorder witnessed in Bournemouth were absolutely disgraceful. I extend my sympathy to all those police officers who were injured and to all the law-abiding people who suffered as a consequence of the behaviour of vicious hooligans. Once again, the police had to bear the brunt of a ferocious attack, and conducted themselves with great courage and professionalism. In other towns also, they had to cope with hooligan behaviour.

Serious disorder was anticipated by the police at Bournemouth and repeated requests were made to the football authorities to reschedule the fixture, the first such request being made as long ago as last June. It is for the football authorities to explain why they did not respond positively to those requests. I have called in both the Football League and the Football Association to discuss the matter, and I will be seeing the league later today, and possibly a representative of the Football Association. It is high time that the football authorities heeded rather than ignored sensible advice.

In the past few years, new powers have been given to the courts to deal with hooliganism. The courts are certainly not without the means to deal with people who behave as so many apparently did over the weekend. Severe penalties are available for crimes of violence and additional sanctions are provided in the Public Order Act 1986 and the Football Spectators Act 1989. The chief constable of Dorset has asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to raise the question of a police veto on particular fixtures where, in the police view, there is a high risk of disorder. Consideration there must be, but any new powers would take time to put in place. I think that the whole House will agree that the football authorities must be made to face up to their responsibilities right now to prevent any repetition of the deplorable scenes of this bank holiday weekend.

Mr. Atkinson

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he accept that holding that match during the bank holiday weekend was a clear recipe for the disaster, destruction and violence that took place? The police are to be commended on avoiding any further disaster. Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that, in the light of the irresponsible refusal to respond to several requests by Dorset police to reschedule the match, the local police authority must now have the clear and final say on whether such matches take place? Was there not a clear case for the application of the alcohol-free zones with which the Department is currently experimenting?

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets representatives of the Football League later today, will he ask them who will pay for the destruction of property and businesses in my constituency, and for the increased community charge that will result from the costs of the extra policing to deal with ticketless fans outside the ground?

Mr. Waddington

The police are certainly to be commended. They should not have to put up with this, any more than they should have to put up with what happened in Trafalgar square. I find it hard to understand why the Football League did not heed the advice of the chief constable. I shall say to representatives of the Football League that it is high time they worked out a sensible arrangement with the chief constables and heeded their advice. I hear what my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson) has said about the experimental byelaws. The reports that I have received so far suggest that the experimental byelaws have been popular with the people living in those towns where the experiments are taking place. I shall report to the House later on the results of the various experiments.

As for the damage that has been done, the law provides that the county council or the police authority must pay for any damage if the Riot (Damages) Act 1886 applies. The question is whether there was a riot within the meaning of the Public Order Act 1986 at the time when the damage was done.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

The serious disorder in Bournemouth is to the shame of all of us in the city of Leeds, and there are no possible excuses for it. Would the Home Secretary consider publishing in the city of Leeds the names of the 104 people charged or sentenced? If he does so, it will be found that many of those people are not from Leeds, but come from a much wider area. Of course the Football League made a big mistake, but the matter goes deeper than that. I do not know the answer, but I hope that we will not pussyfoot about. What happened in Bournemouth is to our eternal disgrace, and something should be done. It is not just a question of the football authorities banning matches; there is something fundamentally wrong that we should all consider.

Mr. Waddington

I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman acknowledges that a serious mistake was made by the Football League. There can be no excuse for hooligan behaviour of that kind. I have not the slightest doubt that the local Bournemouth press will not hesitate for a moment to publish the names of all concerned, and I am sure that in due course those names will be publicised loudly in Leeds: so they should be.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West)

On behalf of my constituents in Bournemouth, West, may I associate myself with the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Atkinson)?

What powers presently exist under the law to prevent a match from taking place if it is expected that this type of disturbance will occur? Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in calling on the local magistracy to impose the most severe penalties available to them on the convicted hooligans, to act as a future deterrent?

Mr. Waddington

It is up to the courts to decide on the appropriate penalty in a particular case; my hon. Friend would not expect me to say more now than that the court has adequate powers to deal severely with people who indulge in this sort of behaviour. The Public Order Act gives chief constables power to impose conditions on an assembly as to the number of people who can attend and the time at which it can take place, but there is no power in law to ban an assembly. That power was considered by the House during the passage of the Public Order Bill and it was not thought necessary.

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

Does the Home Secretary accept that many genuine football supporters on both sides of the House share his disgust at what was done at Bournemouth on Saturday by mindless idiots who are no friends of soccer, against whom I hope that the courts will take action? Bearing in mind that this has been our best season on the hooligan front for many a season past and that during the weekend there were hooligan acts in five European countries, all of which will be participating in the European competition, will the Home Secretary resist a knee-jerk reaction?

Can the Home Secretary confirm press reports that many travelled from Leeds with tee shirts bearing the words "Invasion Bournemouth 90" and with forged tickets? If so, what action is he taking to locate the manufacturers of those tickets and shirts, and will he take action under the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981 and the Public Order Act 1986?

Mr. Waddington

I doubt whether it would be proper to take powers of the sort that the hon. Gentleman mentioned in the latter part of his question, but I am grateful to him for his expression of disgust. All right-minded people should be disgusted at what happened.

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman when he talks about a knee-jerk reaction, because that gives the impression that all has gone reasonably well during the past season and that there is nothing much to worry about. The fact remains that there was disorder in a number of places during the bank holiday weekend, which caused a great deal of trouble to the police, led to police injuries and spoiled the holidays for many people. It is time that the Football League addressed itself to its responsibilities in these matters. It is as simple as that. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The background noise is intolerable. The Home Secretary is answering a serious question.

Mr. Waddington

The fixture would never have taken place, and the trouble would never have arisen, if the Football League had heeded the advice given by the chief constable as long ago as last June and repeated twice last month.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, despite three requests to postpone or defer the match based on hard evidence from west Yorkshire, no action was taken by the football authorities? In the light of that, and because of the need for positive action, will he give serious consideration to the chief constable's request for new police powers to ban a match in such circumstances? Will he also consider making it a criminal offence to attempt to enter an all-ticket match without a ticket?

Mr. Waddington

I am not sure that that last suggestion has a great deal of bearing on the incident, but I am awaiting a full report on the matter. The chief constable of Dorset has asked the Association of Chief Police Officers to consider whether it should ask the Home Office for new powers. We must make the Football League address itself to its responsibilities now. Even if one were to decide that new legislation was necessary, it would take some time to get it on the statute book. The question still remains, why does not a responsible Football League heed the advice that it is given by people who know about the situation? Why did not the Football League heed what the chief constable of Dorset had to say? Any sensible body of men would have done so.

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West)

I add my voice to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) in stressing that not only the people of Leeds but Leeds United's players and supporters themselves are deeply outraged at the events that caused such distress in Bournemouth, and would wish to express their regret and sympathies to the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill) and to his constituents.

Will the Home Secretary confirm that the actions of a few who hitch a ride on the back of Leeds United football club are not those of its true supporters? I hope that not just the names of those found guilty of offences will be published but their addresses as well. The city of Leeds, Leeds United, and the club's genuine supporters should not be associated in the public's mind with the events that occurred over the weekend.

Is the Home Secretary aware that the club pleaded with its genuine fans, via the local media, television and radio, not to travel to Bournemouth, and that 5,000 of them remained behind in Leeds to watch the event on cinema screens at venues throughout the city? The genuine fans without tickets remained behind. It is others, who have hitched a ride on the club's good name this season, who have brought ignominy on the city of Leeds, which should not bear that shame.

Mr. Waddington

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the fact remains that Leeds United fans have acquired for themselves a very bad reputation and that people are most fearful of what will happen next season unless something serious is done.

Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet)

I join other right hon. and hon. Members in expressing shame and dismay at the events of last weekend, perpetrated by those who hang on to the backs of our football clubs rather than by genuine fans. It is clear that those who planned the rioting in Bournemouth had the time and opportunity to do so because the fixture was arranged for the bank holiday weekend. The only way forward must be to follow the judgments of local chief constables if they want fixtures rearranged. I say to my right hon. and learned Friend that, whatever action is necessary, it will not be satisfactory to delay implementing changes in the law that are necessary to give force to the views of chief constables.

Mr. Waddington

One hopes that, even at this late stage, the Football League will recognise the common sense in what my hon. Friend has said. I do not see how anyone can quarrel with his analysis. What responsible body would continue to approve the holding of a fixture when the chief constable on the ground has said that it will lead to disorder?

Mr. Menzies Campbell (Fife, North-East)

I am pleased to hear that the Home Secretary intends to meet the football authorities so soon. When he does, will he discuss the experience in Scotland? Although football hooliganism has not been entirely eliminated there, it has been substantially reduced. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give some consideration to whether measures that have proved successful in Scotland may have a place in England and Wales?

Does the Home Secretary agree that the unfortunate consequence of the unhappy events last weekend is that the much-required and much-wanted return of English football clubs to Europe may yet again be delayed by the irresponsible actions of a minority who profess to be lovers of football but who clearly are not?

Mr. Waddington

It is not for me to comment on what may now happen to our application to re-enter European football. To put it mildly, these events have made the task of my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport, who is in Rome now, even more difficult than it otherwise might have been. I was interested to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman's comments on the measures taken in Scotland, and I shall certainly talk to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland about them. I invite the hon. and learned Gentleman to see me if he would like to educate me about what goes on north of the border.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will agree that, first and foremost, it is the protection of the public and property which must exercise his mind. He will meet the football authorities this afternoon. Will he investigate in some detail by whom and how the decision was taken to ignore the clear and realistic advice of the chief constable of Dorset? Many people think that football hooligans, who are a minority of supporters, have had too many reprieves, and that some measures must be taken to deal with such events.

Mr. Waddington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he has said. When the request was made last June, the police in Dorset got what one of my officials described today as "the brush-off". There was no reasoned argument in support of the decision not to heed the advice given.

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath)

I associate myself with what the Home Secretary said about the disgraceful nature of events in Bournemouth, and I express my appreciation for the role of the police and my sympathy for the citizens. May I also say that some sympathy is due to the citizens of Leeds United who also abhor the trouble but who are now being set up as the fall guys. No decent Leeds United supporter had a ticket or travelled to Bournemouth without being a member of the membership scheme and of the Leeds United travel scheme. They were properly stewarded.

That begins to put the matter into perspective It proves that the House spent one year on the Football Spectators Act 1989 and, from the 10 answers that the Home Secretary has so far given today, he has confirmed that that Act has been totally ineffective, as we predicted. This is a matter—[Interruption.]—of criminality and public order, as we have frequently said, and responsibility for criminal behaviour lies with the Home Office.

I agree that the Football League has to accept its responsibility and I suggest—I hope that the Home Secretary will endorse this suggestion—that we cannot wait until the last day of the season, when promotion and relegation have to be decided, and when matches have to kick off at the same time, for obvious reasons—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] Because it would give clubs an advantage or a disadvantage. It might be more sensible to ask the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Football League to meet at the beginning of the season before fixtures are published to make necessary changes then rather than wait until trouble is imminent. I hope that the Home Secretary will endorse that suggestion.

What has happened to the football intelligence unit set up by the Home Office? Can we be told what intelligence was gathered about the likely violence—which turned out unfortunately to be true? What use was made of the intelligence? Since the leaders who organised and perpetrated the violence are well known, why was no action taken against them before Saturday?

Is it true that the Crown prosecution service has applied for hardly any bans on travelling to Italy for the World Cup for any of the thugs convicted in recent years? If that is the truth, what responsibility do the Government consider that they have in the matter?

Finally, will the Home Secretary ask the Minister for Sport, as I understand he is meeting UEFA this week, to draw attention to the fact that there has been similar violence in Holland, Germany, Italy and other countries, and to convey it to him that we insist that UEFA deals with the violence in all those countries, instead of being anti-English and anti-English football in the way in which they operate?

Mr. Waddington

I am not very impressed by the right hon. Gentleman's last point. Whatever happens in any other country, I am sure that he will agree with me that the scenes that have taken place over the years in our towns have brought great disgrace to Britain, and that we should be bearing that in mind continually instead of trying to find excuses in bad behaviour in other countries.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his expressions of sympathy for the police and the citizens of Bournemouth. I have not the slightest doubt that many people who travelled to Bournemouth were decent people wanting only to watch a good match, but the fact remains that people who claimed to be Leeds supporters caused the trouble.

As for the Football Spectators Act 1989, it has to be borne in mind that my right hon. Friends tried to do something about the problem of football hooliganism. It has been noteworthy that Opposition Members have never tried to do anything. The right hon. Gentleman will remember what a fool the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) made of himself when I made the statement about the Taylor report. It then turned out that the Labour party certainly did not want a football membership scheme, but wanted nothing else instead. Labour Members did not even want to accept the principal recommendation of the Taylor report for all-seater grounds.

The right hon. Gentleman made a somewhat obscure and strange remark about the need for the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Football League to have a meeting at the beginning of the season. I am quite sure that he will agree that the Dorset police wrote to the league well before the beginning of the season—in June 1989. The right hon. Gentleman still has not answered the all-important question—why on earth did not the league act on the advice which it was given then by the chief constable?

The right hon. Gentleman asked another rather obscure question—why action was not taken before Saturday against the leaders of the trouble at Bournemouth. I do not know what powers of preventive detention the right hon. Gentleman had in mind, but if he has any information about those people, I should be grateful if he would give it to me.

The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the courts now have the power to make restriction orders, but it is not for me to lecture them on when they should make restriction orders and when they should not. It is for the Home Office to make it clear to the courts that they have those powers. It is for the courts fearlessly and independently to decide whether they should use those powers.