HC Deb 16 March 1998 vol 308 cc931-3
2. Mr. Tony Clarke

What plans he has to co-operate with his French counterparts in respect of the 1998 World cup finals. [32898]

The Minister for Sport (Mr. Tony Banks)

The Government are co-operating fully with the French authorities on the World cup finals this year. The Home Office, the Foreign Office and the British police are in close contact with their French counterparts over the arrangements for the safety and security of English and Scottish fans. I recently met the French Minister for Sport, Mrs. Buffet, at the winter Olympics in Nagano—I am a terrible name dropper—when we discussed ticketing arrangements.

Mr. Clarke

I thank my hon. Friend for that response. Does he share my despair and dismay at the inadequate ticket allocations from the French, which mean that genuine supporters will not be able to obtain tickets when they travel with genuine travel clubs, whereas black market profiteers and ticket touts in France will be able to peddle tickets in unsegregated parts of grounds to all and sundry?

Will my hon. Friend join me in urging those supporters from the home countries not to travel if they do not have tickets? Any disturbance, no matter what the cause, can only reflect badly on our bid to stage the 2006 World cup.

Mr. Banks

Yes, I share my hon. Friend's concern. Clearly there is much dissatisfaction with the distribution of tickets in England and Scotland and in many of the other participating countries. Just for the record, for the first match—England playing Tunisia in Marseille—we have 3,790 tickets. We have 2,749 tickets for the match against Romania and 2,589 for the match against Colombia. As England has 32,000 registered travelling supporters, it is clear that that ticket allocation is inadequate.

The extra 160,000 tickets that have been offered by FIFA are for all the countries involved. That allocation will mean only a few hundred more tickets for England and Scotland. However many tickets were put on the market, there would not be enough to go round. That being so, the message remains the same: "If you don't have a ticket for the World cup finals, please don't travel." I record yet again that there is much dissatisfaction with the allocation of tickets. When England gets the 2006 World cup finals, that shortcoming will most certainly not be repeated.

Mr. Maude

But what does the Minister aim to do about the problem? It is all very well saying that the situation is unsatisfactory, but it seems to be continuing. If there is a problem with the behaviour of disappointed supporters in this summer, it will affect our bid to host the 2006 World cup. I understand the Minister's excitement at Dr. Havelange's pledge of support last week, but he is surely aware that similar undertakings have been given to heads of state in Germany and South Africa.

Mr. Banks

This is essentially a matter for FIFA, the French authorities and the English Football Association. The Government have given their full political backing to the FA's efforts to secure more tickets for our fans. In the end, of course, we cannot force either FIFA or the French to release more tickets, but we can certainly learn from this experience to ensure that it is not repeated.

Mr. Maude

So much for leading in Europe.

Mr. Banks

The right hon. Gentleman must realise that I would very much like to wish up more tickets, but unfortunately I cannot do so. Those fans without tickets should not travel. We do not want any difficulties in France. I remind all English travelling fans that they are ambassadors for the country in terms of the bid for 2006.

On the right hon. Gentleman's point about Dr. Havelange, of course I am not so naive as to assume that Dr. Havelange, who is a wily old politician, does not say things to please his hosts whichever country he happens to be in, but I would rather he said that England had a good case and that he supported us than that it was a rubbish case and that he did not want to see the World cup held here.

Ms Ward

What action has my hon. Friend taken in his discussions with the French authorities to ensure that we do not have a repeat performance of the policing and lack of control that we witnessed in Italy? Can he assure us that he has made his views clear to the French authorities so that fans travelling abroad are afforded the necessary protection?

Mr. Banks

More to the point, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has made his views quite clear, and a couple of weeks ago in Blackburn there was a constructive seminar on hooliganism, where the views of the British police, the French police authorities and the police authorities of participating countries were all heard, and hooliganism was discussed and debated. As long as our fans behave themselves, there will be no difficulties. We will always seek to protect our supporters travelling abroad, because they do not leave their civil rights in this country when they go, but they must behave and remember that they are ambassadors for the country. The French police do not muck around. They have very strict rules with regard to ticket touting. No one should think they are a pushover, because they are not. Again, the message is: "Don't risk it. If you haven't got a ticket, don't travel."