HC Deb 18 December 1995 vol 268 cc1212-4
8. Mrs. Bridget Prentice

To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage if she will bring forward proposals to give football fans more influence in running the game, with special reference to measures to enable more fans to sit on the boards of clubs. [4642]

Mr. Sproat

The administration of sport is a matter for the relevant governing bodies. Decisions on who sits on the boards of football clubs are for the clubs themselves to make.

Mrs. Prentice

Has the Minister had the opportunity yet to read Labour's charter for football, in which we recognise the role of the supporters and their concerns? Is it not time that those supporters, who make such a financial contribution to our national game, should have their concerns heard in the boardroom? Does he agree that it is a welcome development that after discussions I had with the consortium that is bidding for Wembley as the national stadium, the consortium has agreed to look at ways of involving fans in discussions about how the sport can be developed?

Mr. Sproat

I did, alas, have a chance to read the Labour party's charter for football. Having read it, I am not surprised that it has sunk without trace. I have had the pleasure of meeting both supporters' associations, but it remains up to the clubs themselves as to whether they wish to have members of those organisations or, for that matter, any other organisations, on their boards. They are perfectly free to do so if they wish.

Mr. Hawkins

When considering the concerns of legitimate football fans in looking forward to Euro '96 in this country next year, will my hon. Friend pay special attention to the need for liaison with the police—and especially with the football fans intelligence unit in the national criminal intelligence service—to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of legitimate fans do not have their pleasure, and public order, spoilt by the small minority of mindless hooligans who have besmirched Britain's reputation in the past? While we look forward to a successful Euro '96 tournament, will my hon. Friend join me in wishing the England and Scotland teams success against Holland and Switzerland?

Mr. Sproat

I certainly join my hon. Friend in wishing the best to Scotland and England. We have taken all the measures that we think fit to keep hooligans out. For instance, if we know of people with records of football trouble arriving at a port, we have the power to ban their entry. If they are caught offending in a British football ground, they will be taken before the courts and they can be released on a bail that will prevent them from attending any other football matches in June next year.

Mr. Tony Banks

The board of Chelsea football club would have been a rather dangerous place to put anyone on, given the arguments between Ken Bates and Matthew Harding in recent months—a UN peacekeeping force might have been more appropriate—although they have now kissed and made up. Would it not be appropriate to consider a charter for football supporters as they are so often treated as a necessary evil in grounds and many rights have been and are infringed both in and outside grounds? A football charter might be appropriate for the 1996 European championships.

Mr. Sproat

No, I do not agree. It is true that hooliganism has been falling and attendances at grounds rising, although some problems remain and it is up to the clubs themselves to sort them out. I pay special tribute to what has been done by the Football Association, the Premier division and the Football League in sorting those problems out. A great deal of praise ought to be directed at them.

Mr. Simon Coombs

Is my hon. Friend aware that forward-looking clubs such as Swindon Town have already established shadow boards and take every opportunity to involve responsible fans to the fullest possible extent? That is no doubt the reason why Swindon Town stands at the top of the second division. Can my hon. Friend think of any other idea advanced recently that is sillier than that proposed by the Opposition?

Mr. Sproat

Not easily, in the time that it takes me to get from the Bench to the Dispatch Box. I agree with my hon. Friend. Nothing in the football charter that was new was sensible, and nothing that was sensible was new. I am sure that Swindon Town football club is right to involve the fans as much as is proper, which is exactly what the fans want most.

Mr. Pendry

Is the Minister aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mrs. Prentice) is right: a host of issues currently concerns football fans, including sharply rising admission charges, inadequate facilities for away supporters and the lack of discount schemes for the young, the unemployed and the disabled. We recognise that no Government should dictate to those who run sport, but will the Minister join all the football authorities—the Football Association, the premiership, the Football League, the players' union and many others—in endorsing the proposals contained in Labour's charter for football, which will ensure that spectators are given proper representation on bodies in which they have an interest? Far from sinking without trace, we must now reprint many more thousands of copies of that document to meet demand.

Mr. Sproat

I cannot believe that any football ground would welcome being told by a future Labour Government, if such a thing should come to pass, what admission prices it should charge. We all know that football has many difficulties, such as the taking of drugs and bungs, with which the proper authorities—the Inland Revenue and the police—are dealing. The last thing that football wants is a couple of Labour politicians on so-called "task forces" sticking their noses in and telling football what it must do.

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